President Biden tied his climate initiatives to job growth today, touting the economic growth behind his measures to increase conservation as the oil and gas industry complained about lost employment.
‘Today is climate day at the White House, which means today is jobs day at the White House,’ Biden said in the State Dining Room before he signed his latest round of executive orders. ‘It’s a future of enormous hope and opportunity.’
His plan includes a number of policy changes including ending drilling on federal land, doubling wind energy, and eliminate fossil fuel subsidies – all after he canceled the controversial billion-dollar Keystone XL pipeline. Social justice initiatives also play a large role in his climate proposal, which he called a national security issue.
‘When I think of climate change, when I think of the answers to it – I think of jobs,’ the president said, promising a ‘whole of government’ approach to environmental problems. ‘Climate change will be the center of our national security and foreign policy.’
Biden argued his administration’s plan will result in 1 million jobs in the American auto industry and more than a quarter million jobs to clean up after the oil and gas industry as part of his $2 trillion program to slow global warming.
Biden also vowed not to forget energy workers who have lost jobs in the shift to more renewable, environmental fuel sources.
‘We’re never going to forget the men and women who dug the coal and built the nation. We’re going to do right by them, make sure they have opportunities to keep building the nation and their own communities and getting paid well,’ he said.
The orders kick off Biden’s drive to combat climate change, an issue area young Democratic voters and progressive activists pressed him on during the presidential campaign.
It was one of the four areas he vowed to tackle at the start of his presidency along with COVID, the economy, and social injustice.
In his plan, Biden rejected the Green New Deal branding pushed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez among others but his measures are certain to be attacked by Republicans as over-reach and he’s been accused of putting jobs at risk.
‘We will do everything we can to fight this executive order,’ Mike Sommers, the CEO of the American Petroleum Institute, told CNN Business. ‘We will pursue every action at our disposal to push back, including legal options, if appropriate.’
Republicans, who rely on Big Oil for huge campaign donations, called the plan a job killer.
‘Pie-in-the-sky government mandates and directives that restrict our mining, oil, and gas industries adversely impact our energy security and independence,” GOP Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state, the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee ,said.
‘At a time when millions are struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the last thing Americans need is big government destroying jobs, while costing the economy billions of dollars,” she said.
But Biden’s initiatives do parallel some of main points of the Green New Deal, mainly tackling climate change while addressing economic and racial injustice.
‘It’s almost as if we helped shape the platform,’ Ocasio-Cortez quipped on Twitter of Biden’s plan.
She was part of a task force the merged Biden’s middle of the road policies with the wishes of progressives.
Among the provisions in the executive orders is a directive to the secretary of the Interior to pause new oil and natural gas leases on federal lands or offshore waters.
It also directs the secretary to double renewable energy production from offshore wind by 2030.
The orders are meant to fulfill Biden’s campaign promise to achieve a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035 and put the United States on an irreversible path to a net-zero economy by 2050.
Biden also directed federal agencies to ‘eliminate fossil fuel subsidies as consistent with applicable law,’ according to a White House fact sheet.
It’s unclear though which subsidies will be affected as tax breaks are a matter for Congress.
The oil and gas industry already noted their concern about Biden administration’s plans.
‘The first few days are giving us an indication of what the next four years could look like, and that’s elicited some real concern, within the industry and broadly, outside the industry,’ Frank Macchiarola, senior vice president of policy, economics and regulatory affairs at the American Petroleum Institute told The Washington Post. ‘We’re going to communicate how impactful such a policy would be, to both the administration and on Capitol Hill.’
Biden’s climate plans also strengthen measures to protect poor and minority neighborhoods from pollution.
‘With this executive order, environmental justice will be at the center of all we do addressing the disproportionate health and environmental and economic impacts on communities of color, so called fenceline communities, especially those communities, brown, black Native American poor whites,’ Biden noted.
He pointed out poor air quality is increasing the risk of COVID.
‘It’s not just a pandemic that keeps people inside is poor air quality. Multiple studies have shown that air pollution is associated with an increased risk of death from COVID-19,’ the president said.
And the orders direct the government to conserve 30 percent of all federal land and water by 2030; create a National Climate Task Force to assemble a government-wide action plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions; establish a White House interagency council on environmental justice; establish a Civilian Climate Corps Initiative ‘to put a new generation of Americans to work’; and make climate change a national security priority.
‘Our plans are ambitious. But we are America. We’re bold and are unwavering in the pursuit of jobs and innovation and science and discovery. We can do this, we must do this and we will do this,’ Biden said.
Ahead of the signing, White House Climate Czar John Kerry and National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy previewed the president’s argument that the climate plan will result in jobs.
‘It is now cheaper to deal with the crisis of climate than destroy it,’ Kerry said of why the administration was pushing this now as it combats COVID and tries to improve the economy.
He argued there were jobs for workers in the solar and wind energy – positions that could be filled by oil and gas workers who lost their jobs.
‘Unfortunately workers have been fed a false narrative, no surprise, for the last four years’ about the shift to clean energy, Kerry said. ‘They’ve been fed that somehow dealing with climate is coming at their expense. No, it’s not.’
He and McCarthy, who joined today’s White House press briefing, repeatedly pushed the job message as they advocated for tougher environmental policies.
‘When we say climate change eventually, people are going to think jobs just like President Biden, when he hears the words climate change,’ McCarthy said.
‘In terms of the job issue, we’re explicitly doing this because right now our economy is stagnant,’ she noted.
Biden already has taken a series of actions to combat climate change – a dramatic reversal from the policies under former President Trump.
On his first day as president, he signed the papers for the United States to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord after Trump removed the country from the climate agreement.
He also revoked a key cross-border presidential permit needed to finish the controversial Keystone XL pipeline – a move that angered Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and ended the $8 billion pipeline.
Biden also created a climate czar position – adding it to the National Security Council – that is held by John Kerry.
Biden will also host a Leaders’ Climate Summit on Earth Day, April 22, 2021.