Biden gambles on market momentum to override Republican opposition to bold climate goal


Republicans warned that President Joe Biden’s plan to cut U.S. carbon emissions by more than 50% would destroy jobs and hand an economic advantage to competitors, including China and Russia.

Biden unveiled the pledge as he convened a climate summit of world leaders.

Campaigners welcomed the move, but opposition from Republicans in Congress will raise questions about how the Biden administration can turn a pledge into progress if it struggles to enact legislation.

“President Biden is unilaterally committing America to a drastic and damaging emissions pledge,” said Sen. John Barrasso, the ranking member of the Senate energy committee.

“As the president sets punishing targets for the country, America’s adversaries like China and Russia continue to increase emissions at will. The last thing the economy needs is higher energy prices and fewer jobs, but that’s exactly what we’re going to get,” the Wyoming Republican said.


The Senate Republican Communications Center circulated details of a report by the nonprofit Resources for the Future, which boiled down the steps needed to achieve a 50% emissions reduction, including phasing out coal mines and ensuring that 100% of new buildings and appliance are completely electrified.

It asked: “Does the White House agree that these radical steps are necessary to keep President Biden’s climate promise?”

In his morning address, Biden suggested the answer was yes.

“This is a moral imperative, an economic imperative. A moment of peril but also a moment of extraordinary possibilities,” he said. “Time is short, but I believe we can do this, and I believe that we will do this.”

Doing it might yet be trickier.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson listens to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the opening session of the virtual global Leaders Summit on Climate.

Justin Tallis/Pool via AP

Administration officials have struggled to spell out exactly how such bold promises can be enacted if there is opposition in Congress.

“We see multiple paths to reaching this goal,” said an administration official in a briefing for reporters without explaining what they might be.

Some of the tools are laid out in the administration’s $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan, which includes funding for 500,000 vehicle charging stations by 2030 and funding for renewable energy projects. But it is unclear how much will survive its passage through a divided Senate.

Republicans laid out a $568 billion alternative on Thursdaym, suggesting that Biden may have to thin down his plans if he wants to reach a compromise.

And several states have already made clear they will challenge any new federal policies that require emissions cuts in the power sector, including GOP-governed Arkansas, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wyoming.

They were among the states that took the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan all the way to the Supreme Court. The plan was eventually stayed by the court in 2016 and then abandoned under President Donald Trump, giving a sense of the challenges Biden will face.

But administration officials say their biggest advantage is that market momentum is on their side, with investment turning inevitably to green energy — even if they struggle to make progress with legislation.

Biden’s climate envoy John Kerry said much of the work could be done with executive actions. In addition, the market dominance of electric car maker Tesla and moves by traditional manufactures such as General Motors Co. to go all-electric by 2035 showed that it would be impossible for a future president to roll back progress.

“Because the world as a whole is moving in a direction, because these companies have made this critical, long-term, strategic market judgment, and that is the way the market is moving,” he said. “No politician, no matter how demagogic or how potent, capable they are, is going to be able to change what that market is doing.”

The result is optimism among renewable energy advocates that Republicans will either fall in line or fall by the wayside.


“While Biden's climate goals are ambitious, they are absolutely doable,” said Karla Loeb, a board member of the Solar Energy Industries Association.

“Congress is currently considering an infrastructure package that will ensure we meet this moment with Republican support. The incentive of mass job creation and economic growth is a generational opportunity,” Loeb said. “There will be jobs for all Americans, including the former coal miners and steelworkers of West Virginia and Pennsylvania.”

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