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MORE TO COME! With climate legislation complete, Biden looks to presidential power to boost climate agenda

With climate legislation complete, Biden looks to presidential power to boost clean energy

WASHINGTON – Just weeks after Congress approved close to $370 billion in clean energy funding under Democrats’ Inflation Reduction Act, the Biden administration is preparing a series of executive actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that have the potential to drive a nationwide shift away from oil and natural gas.

Over the next 12 months, the administration is expected to announce federal policies speeding up emissions reductions from both vehicles and power plants, the two largest drivers for oil and natural gas demand, as they seek to get the United States on track to meet their climate targets.

“These administrative actions are absolutely essential for the U.S. to get to the science-based target of a 50 percent reduction by 2030,” said Matthew Davis, legislative director at the League of Conservation Voters. “They’re separate from the Inflation Reduction Act but they’re also amplifying it.”

In 2020 U.S. carbon dioxide emissions were 4.5 billion metric tons, 23 percent below 2005 levels, according to the EPA. That decline is largely the result of replacing coal-fired power plants with cleaner-burning natural gas, more efficient vehicles and the meteoric growth of wind and solar power, which along with batteries accounted for more than 80 percent of the new generating capacity built on U.S. power grids last year.

But to achieve a 50 percent reduction in emissions, the U.S. economy would need to shift much more seriously towards clean energy, likely requiring increased renewables on the power grid and rapid expansion of electric vehicle sales, which accounted for less than 3 percent of all car sales last year.

California recently announced it would seek to ban the sale of gasoline-powered cars by 2035, in line with targets already in place in Europe. And with other Democratic-led states expected to follow, it will be up to the EPA to decide whether those states can move ahead, as well as whether the agency should set a similar federal standard.

Last year the Biden administration decided to restore tougher vehicle emissions standards weakened under former President Donald Trump. But that only covered vehicles made prior to 2027, and now the administration is looking to set standards into the 2030s, with a decision expected early next year.

Activists are pressuring administration officials to set a standard rigorous enough to effectively ban the production of internal combustion engines.

Such a move would be a massive blow to oil industry, which relies on the transportation sector for two thirds of U.S. demand. Industry lobbyists are making the case to the Biden administration that moving too fast poses the risk of driving up American energy prices.

“Policy makers must know that a swift transition comes at a cost to the American consumer,” said Frank Macchiarola, senior vice president of policy at the American Petroleum Institute. “The burden falls upon them to put in place a regulatory structure that provides for stable energy markets.”

Almost two years into his first term, President Joe Biden has tried to walk a fine line when it comes to the energy sector, looking to move the country away from fossil fuels in the long term while trying to avoid short-term supply gaps that result in price spikes like seen this year.

That has limited Biden’s options to regulate the power sector, but EPA Administrator Michael Reagan said his agency was moving ahead on a new rule, with a first draft expected next spring. The court left a pathway for the EPA to limit individual power plants’ carbon emissions as it does other forms of pollution, potentially forcing power companies to install costly carbon capture equipment on coal and natural gas-fired plants, said Davis.

“The regulations they would be pursuing would make it even less economic for utilities to open new fossil fuel power plants,” he said.

Such a move could deal a blow to the natural gas industry, which relies on the power grid for 37 percent of demand. However, since natural gas emits less carbon dioxide than coal, some gas producers believe there could be a place for them even under a low emissions standard.

For many oil and gas companies, the days of trying to stop climate regulation are largely over. Instead, they are seeking a more cautious approach by government, letting the economy transition to clean energy more slowly than scientists say is necessary to avoid cataclysmic climate change.

For instance, the American Petroleum Institute has said it is tentatively supporting EPA’s proposal to require oil and gas drillers take greater steps to find and repair the methane leaks that have been a steady contributor to climate change.

The complete text of the rule is expected to be released later this month, with a final rule expected in the spring.