Washington has always been a place that thrives on compromise. When it comes to global warming and sea level rise, however, the planet can’t afford legislation that takes us one step forward and one or more steps back, leaving us on-track for more environmental devastation than we’re already seeing.
But that’s what we got when President Biden signed a climate change measure in August that both encourages the expanded use of renewable energy sources and improved energy efficiency while also guaranteeing that oil and gas companies will have expanded drilling opportunities in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska. More oil and natural gas means more fossil fuel burning which means the release of more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and, of course, more global warming and sea level rise.
On the positive side, Pres. Biden’s historic climate measure, which was tucked into the Inflation Reduction Act, invests a record $369 billion over the next decade in the war against global warming. Among the projects that will be funded are $128 billion in tax credits for businesses to shift to renewable sources of power, such as solar panels, $60 billion to promote the development of US-manufactured clean-energy technologies, such as electric vehicles and solar panels, and billions of dollars in the development of environmentally friendlier jet fuels. There are also billions of dollars in tax credits to help people purchase electric vehicles and improve household energy efficiency.
On the negative side, to get the climate-fighting measure passed in the Senate, Pres. Biden had to throw a bone to West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, who lives in a coal producing state and is a recipient of oil and gas donations. Up until this summer, Pres. Biden had cut back on opportunities for new offshore drilling to protect the climate. However, to get Sen. Manchin to sign off on the climate friendly aspects of the his bill, Pres. Biden had to mandate the leasing of vast areas of public lands and Gulf Coast tracts to oil and gas companies. In a perverse twist, whenever the Biden administration seeks to install solar and wind projects on public lands, it has to offer new oil and gas leases to energy companies.
With increased development and burning of fossil fuels tied directly to the development of large-scale renewable energy sources, like solar and wind farms, it’s unclear whether Pres. Biden’s much-heralded climate-fighting legislation will ever have its intended effect. Some analysts told PBS Newshour that they expect both oil and gas production and emissions will continue to grow, which is certainly bad news for people concerned about our warming planet and the environmental disasters we’re already seeing that are sure to grow worse in the years to come. It’s also possible that Pres. Biden sees this as a critical first step in committing the nation to battling climate change, and we’ll see additional legislation that offsets the giveaways to oil and gas concerns in the coming years. Or maybe his efforts to drive down the demand for fossil fuels will be so successful that new oil and gas leases won’t be necessary.
The most important point to keep in mind in our effort to combat climate change is that the we can’t fool the planet. If the end result of this legislation is that greenhouse gas emissions are not actually reduced but are allowed to stay the same or actually increase, the planet will follow the basic laws of science and continue to warm with devastating results for us all.