Biden finally has a climate bill. What happens next?


For 18 months, President Biden’s climate agenda was in limbo. The White House and Senate Democrats were in rocky negotiations with Sen. Joe Manchin III (DW.Va.), talks that often seemed to go nowhere (and, on occasion, fell apart). Meanwhile, the administration has held its fire on several key issues — such as more fossil fuel drilling on federal lands, which would violate a Biden climate pledge — while waiting to see if Manchin returns.

Then in June, in a long-awaited decision, the Supreme Court clipped the administration’s wings by limiting how the Environmental Protection Agency can regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

But now Biden finally has a strong tailwind as he begins to shape climate policy for the rest of his term. The Senate has passed the largest climate bill ever undertaken in the United States – which the House is expected to pass on Friday for Biden’s signature.

The hard part is not over yet, however. Here are some of the tough decisions the administration faces after Biden signs the bill into law.

With the climate bill nearing the finish line, the administration’s attention will turn to drafting a set of global warming rules to accompany the legislation.

For example, one of the key features of the Inflation Reduction Act is a tax on emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Oil and gas facilities will start paying $900 a ton.

But for the fee to work as intended, the EPA must complete drafting of pending methane regulations. The agency introduced a draft rule to better monitor and capture the global-warming pollutant in November, but has yet to finalize the regulations.

Another key regulatory team that Biden’s team aims to complete: tailpipe pollution limits for cars made for model year 2027 and later.

These standards would work in conjunction with the billions of dollars in rebates for new electric cars included in the climate bill, designed to encourage automakers and drivers to ditch gas-guzzling vehicles and go electric.

When it comes to regulating carbon pollution from cars, “they have a lot of authority in this space,” said Jamal Raad, co-founder and executive director of environmental group Evergreen Action. The EPA plans to finalize an exhaust rule by 2024.

Time is running out: If Biden loses re-election, any rules completed in the final months of his administration risk being struck down by Congress using a law called the Congressional Review Act. If Biden or another Democrat wins in 2024, the rules will be safe.

Difficult drilling decisions

To win Manchin’s support, the climate compromise bill mandates the leasing of oil and gas in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Alaska. It also links the construction of offshore wind turbines on the east coast and the construction of solar and wind farms on federal lands in the west to the ongoing oil and gas auctions.

The new law makes it virtually impossible for Biden to keep his campaign promise to end new drilling on federal lands and waters, especially if he wants to develop renewable energy generation. “No more drilling on federal lands, period,” he said during the campaign. “Period, period, period.”

Now his administration will have to balance the goal of limiting emissions from federal oil and gas reserves, controlling gasoline prices and complying with the new law.

There are options to limit new oil and gas development, if the administration wishes.

The Home Office, for example, could raise royalty rates on onshore drilling and set new rules for venting methane, making drilling more expensive for producers. And the government could proceed with the bulk of its wind lease sale sooner to avoid holding so many oil and gas auctions.

“There are ways for the Department of the Interior to play this that follows the letter of the law,” said Kevin Book, chief executive of consulting firm ClearView Energy Partners, “but not necessarily contrary to the intent. President’s initial, the spirit of this election promise to stop the rental.

The White House declined to comment on the future of the fossil fuel leasing program.

Is climate change still an emergency?

Rhetorically, Biden was clear: climate change, he repeatedly said, is an “existential threat.” But the White House has refrained from officially declaring climate change a national emergency.

Invoking the National Emergencies Act and other existing laws could allow the administration to check off a host of items on the wish list of many Democratic lawmakers and climate activists: halting crude oil exports, directing defense dollars towards renewables and reduce private investment in fossil fuels. overseas projects.

This summer, the White House toyed with the idea of ​​an emergency declaration as a way to advance its climate agenda in the absence of congressional help as talks with Manchin stalled. The option is still on the table for Biden, but, for now, the administration is wary of what it will do.

“At this time, we are happy to see that Congress has answered the call,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters last month when asked if the president would still declare a climate emergency.

Many activists are still agitating for a statement. “Biden can and must do more,” said Jean Su, program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “When he signs this bill, the President must also declare a climate emergency and use the full force of his executive powers to confront the murderous fossil fuel industry head on.”

The move, however, would carry political risks as Republicans look for ways to attack Democrats on gas prices and other issues ahead of the midterm elections in November.

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