It’s Time For Biden’s New Energy Division To Reject Fossil Fuels

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The late November news out of the White House was filled with pomp and promise. A new energy division within the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) would contribute to climate change policy, and Sally Benson, a prominent energy expert out of Stanford, would take on the role of deputy director for energy and chief strategist for the energy transition at OSTP. This lead author on global climate policy would assist the Biden administration to achieve targets of a 50-52% reduction in greenhouse gases from 2005 levels by 2030, a carbon pollution-free electricity system by 2035, and a net-zero emissions economy no later than 2050.

Just a week or so later, however, a report by Public Citizen said that the Biden administration had auctioned off the right to drill offshore on 1.7 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico, locking in more fossil fuel drilling — and carbon emissions — for decades.

The move is a slap in the face to Biden-Harris supporters.

As a candidate, Biden pledged to advocate for “no more subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, no more drilling on federal lands, no more drilling, including offshore, no ability for the oil industry to continue to drill, period.”

What changed?

Could it be, as Bloomberg Intelligence’s survey last month indicated, only 2% of investors responding said that oil demand would peak before 2025, and fewer than 40% said that it would peak before the end of the decade. More than a third of investors responding expect demand to peak between 2025 and 2030, but nearly the same number see that peak happening later, between 2030 and 2035. Plus, their findings suggest that 71% of the 122 respondents see the OPEC+ alliance remaining in place through 2025, while 41% think the group will be forced to maintain active supply management forever in response to sluggish demand.

Is the Biden administration looking ahead to the 2024 election with trepidation that powerful fossil fuel allies will rally against the Biden-Harris ticket unless there is a warmer (pun intended) reception to Big Oil? It was also last month that Vice President Kamala Harris said she and President Joe Biden have not been discussing the 2024 election. Uh huh. It was also in November that it was revealed, in a hypothetical 2024 rematch, former President Donald Trump led President Joe Biden in Iowa by 11 percentage points. That news was published via a Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll.

On November 26, NPR reported that the Biden administration had recommended an overhaul of the nation’s oil and gas leasing program to limit areas available for energy development and raise costs for oil and gas companies to drill on public land and water.

What is going on with all the contradictions about clean energy versus fossil fuels?

What’s The New Energy Division Charged With Accomplishing?

The passage of the $1 trillion infrastructure bill contains $47 billion designated for climate resilience. The objective is to better prepare the US for extreme fires, floods, storms, and droughts — tangible symbols of the current economic and social climate crisis havoc. The new energy division will help implement those energy provisions in the infrastructure bill.

The formation of the administration’s new energy division, according to the White House press release, is intended to “reinforce the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to using science-based approaches to reduce emissions and scale-up a clean and equitable energy system.”

Elements of that plan are to:

  • Ensure America’s continued leadership in clean energy innovation
  • Map the path to get the US to net-zero emissions by 2050
  • Do things once thought impossible with smart grid technologies, clean hydrogen, and fusion power
  • Make carbon-neutral energy the cheapest energy, so it’s always the easy choice
  • Drive the virtuous cycle of invention and deployment that brings down costs
  • Move toward an emission-free future where clean electricity is the cheapest and most reliable electricity
  • Enable equitable access to clean energy services to everyone across the country

In an interview with The Washington Post, Benson said that one of her top priorities is ensuring that the swift transition to a clean energy economy benefits all Americans, rather than leaving behind some workers in the oil and gas sector and other polluting industries. “We have a 120-year-old energy system that was built over a long time period, and we’re talking about very quickly changing that to a new system,” she said. “And this is a huge opportunity for American industry, for American workers, to lead.”

Benson says she intends to work toward securing supply chains for the materials needed to make electric vehicles, solar panels, and other clean energy technologies.

More Executive Office Announcements About A Zero Emissions US Economy

This week, an Executive Order was released with the focus on catalyzing clean energy industries and creating jobs through federal sustainability.

Through a coordinated whole-of-government approach, the Federal Government says it shall use its scale and procurement power to achieve:

  • 100% carbon pollution-free electricity on a net annual basis by 2030, including 50% 24/7 carbon pollution-free electricity
  • 100 %  zero-emission vehicle acquisitions by 2035, including 100% zero-emission light-duty vehicle acquisitions by 2027
  • A net-zero emissions building portfolio by 2045, including a 50% emissions reduction by 2032
  • A 65% reduction in scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions, as defined by the Federal Greenhouse Gas Accounting and Reporting Guidance, from Federal operations by 2030 from 2008 levels
  • Net-zero emissions from Federal procurement, including a Buy Clean policy to promote use of construction materials with lower embodied emissions
  • Climate resilient infrastructure and operations
  • A climate- and sustainability-focused Federal workforce

We’ll be hearing a lot more about this Executive Order in the days to come. By proclaiming that exactions and investment required to achieve these goals will “protect the environment, drive innovation, spur private sector investment, improve public infrastructure, and create new economic opportunity,” the Biden-Harris administration has committed to policies that will combat the climate crisis; help American businesses compete in strategic industries; create and sustain well-paying union jobs that allow workers to thrive; maximize the use of American goods, products, materials, and services; and promote a secure, just, and equitable future for all in the US.

So how can the administration continue to support oil and gas drilling? It makes no sense.

Final Thoughts

In response to the new energy division announcement, James Carafano, a scholar at the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank who was the lead author of a 2016 report recommending the elimination of OSTP, sputtered, “In addition to all the other federal agencies involved, now you’re going to have another layer of bureaucracy that’s going to be involved in policy decision-making.” Carafano served on the transition teams at the Department of Homeland Security and State Department under President Donald Trump. “I think the whole zero-emission thing is literally nonsense. It’s a political agenda; it’s not a science agenda.”

A Biden-Harris administration is far, far better than a Trump administration for the environment, the climate crisis, transition to renewable energy, equal rights for all, and so much more. But the Biden-Harris administration is full of inconsistencies — the administration’s stutter steps on fossil fuels must come to a halt.

The climate crisis math of the Biden administration is not adding up. You cannot approve massive oil drilling projects if you want to swiftly reach net-zero emissions. While rising gasoline prices have adversely affected millions of working people in the US, the world’s biggest fossil fuel corporations have benefited immensely, raking in a combined $174 billion in profits during the first 9 months of this year.

The administration has claimed it is simply complying with a court order as it continues to approve drilling leases, which last year allowed for the extraction of 246 million tons of coal, 314 million barrels of oil, and 3.3 billion cubic feet of natural gas, according to the analysis. The action to approve more drilling leases is much more than a marketing snafu; the Biden administration needs to set a clear path toward zero emissions, or else it will be, as Carafano exclaimed, little more than a political agenda to please a segment of the Democratic party base.

Photograph retrieved from NOAA/public domain

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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavey Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y as well as a 2017 Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.

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