The president and his interior secretary, Deb Haaland, can help by clarifying the administration’s policies on oil and gas drilling, which are currently confusing. Mr. Biden promised in his campaign to stop new oil and gas leasing on federal lands, which is a major cause of greenhouse gas emissions. That promise seems long and distant. The recent five-year offshore drilling plan in the interior opens up the possibility of leasing parts of the Gulf of Mexico, while a recent environmental impact statement does not foreclose, as environmentalists expect the Willow Project, the proposed development of oil and gas resources by ConocoPhillips in the fragile Western Arctic.
Mr. Biden is clearly in a difficult place to drill, given the political risk of high gas prices and their cost to the American household, plus the possibility that Vladimir Putin’s control of Russian oil and gas supplies could drive them even higher. The environmental community is no longer nervous about the potential for more drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska. Meanwhile, there are other protective measures still available to the president, including reforms to climate-friendly farming practices and nature-based solutions to climate change, which will include putting more on land and water that are not limited to commercial activities.
One thing Mr. Biden has going for him is the economic tailwinds created by science and technology, private sector innovation and earlier government investment. That includes, notably, the $90 billion investment in clean energy in the 2009 economic recovery act, which Republicans undermined because of the failure of a solar panel manufacturer but helped provide a dramatic cost reduction of renewable energy in the last decade. — nearly 90 percent for solar power and about 70 percent for wind power, not to mention the emergence of the electric car. (Tesla benefited from a large federal loan from the 2009 investments.)
Combined with the drastic reduction in coal, these technological advances have helped cause a nearly 20 percent reduction in emissions since 2005. This puts the United States on track to reduce emissions by 24 percent to 35 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, according to a new report by the Rhodium Group, a research firm.
That, as they say, is not nothing, but it is not enough to fulfill Mr. Biden’s promise to the world. For that, we will need a massive infusion of federal money, which means a concerned and engaged Congress. The threat that climate change poses to the lives and livelihoods of Americans is urgent and dire, and it will require more commitment from elected officials to protect them.