If President Biden wins a second term, his climate policies would target steel and cement plants, factories and oil refineries, heavily polluting industries that have never before had to curb their heat-trapping greenhouse gases.
The new controls on industrial facilities, which his advisers have begun to map out and describe in recent interviews, could be combined with actions taken in Energy plants and vehicles during his first term to help meet the president’s goal of eliminating fossil fuel pollution by 2050, analysts said. Industrialized nations must meet that goal if the world has any hope of avoiding the most catastrophic impacts of climate change, scientists say.
“If people look at what this administration has done on climate and say ‘This is enough,’ this country will not meet our goals,” said John Larsen, a partner at the Rhodium Group, a nonpartisan energy research firm whose analyzes are consulted periodically by the White House.
But talk of more regulations at the start of what promises to be a painful election cycle is dangerous, strategists said. In particular, the prospect of new mandates from Washington regarding steel and cement, the fundamental materials of American construction, could sour union workers in swing states courted by Biden.
“If you are seen as imposing debilitating regulations on heavy industry that employs large numbers of people, you will not only get a backlash from the manufacturing industry but also from the workforce,” said David Axelrod, the Democratic strategist. which he directed to former President Barack Obama. Obama’s campaigns. “How to do that without appearing to stab these industries in the back, or in the front, is a real political challenge.”
Still, the urgency of global warming requires action, Larsen said. “Most other problems in America are not going to be 10 times worse in 10 years if we don’t do something now,” she said. “The climate is not like that. If this year has shown us anything, it is with the Extreme weather and fires, is that it will not simply remain at this level, but will break all the records that we have just broken.”
Republicans are eager to seize on the suggestion of additional regulations at a time when many Americans think the economy is in recession.
“Apparently, skyrocketing gas and energy prices weren’t enough for Biden; he wants to price up construction and infrastructure costs and put hard-working Americans further into debt,” said Committee spokesperson Emma Vaughn. Republican National. “Biden will not be elected to a second term; American families can’t afford it.”
A Biden climate agenda for a second term would come after the president has already adopted transformative policies to reduce greenhouse gases generated by the United States, the country that has pumped the largest amount of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution.
Last year, Biden signed the law into law Inflation Reduction Law, a landmark climate law, that will provide at least $370 billion over the next decade for incentives to increase sales of electric vehicles and expand wind, solar and other renewable energy. Under the Biden administration, the Environmental Protection Agency has proposed regulations, which are expected to be finalized next year. designed to force the phase-out of gasoline-powered cars and coal power plants.
Together, those policies could help cut the country’s emissions nearly in half over the next decade, analysts say.
And yet, it is not enough.
The United States and nearly 200 other countries agreed in 2015 to try to limit the rise in average global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100, compared with preindustrial levels. Beyond that point, scientists say, the effects of deadly heat waves, floods, droughts, crop failures and species extinction would be much harder for humanity to handle. But the planet has already warmed by an average of about 1.2 degrees Celsius and the United States and other nations They are far from achieving their goals.
As emissions from energy and transportation, the country’s two largest sources of greenhouse gases, decline, industry become the most polluting sector of the economy. That makes companies like steel and cement manufacturing, among the most difficult to clean up, the obvious target of the next round of climate regulation.
At the White House, Biden’s climate team has already envisioned a multi-step plan to reduce industrial pollution if he wins re-election.
The first step would use incentives, directing incentives from the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 toward nascent technologies to help factories reduce their carbon footprint.
For example, green hydrogen, a fuel produced using wind and solar energy, is powerful enough to run a steel mill, but only emits water vapor as a byproduct. And cement production involves heating limestone and releasing large amounts of carbon dioxide, but several companies have been developing cement that emits no carbon and can even absorb it.
The second step would be to try to force global competitors to clean up their operations through a “carbon tariff,” a fee added to imported goods such as steel, cement and aluminum based on their carbon emissions.
Congress would need to approve such a tax, which has the support of Democrats and some Republicans. The European Union imposed a similar measure carbon border tax earlier this year.
To justify a carbon tariff at the World Trade Organization, the United States would probably have to impose the same type of taxes on industrial pollution at home. While efforts to impose a carbon tax have long been considered dead when they reached Congress, the administration could instead use its executive authority to impose new top-down regulations on industrial pollution using the Air Act. Clean of 1970, which formed the basis of his proposals for regulations for automobiles and power plants.
But those policies are already under fire.
Candidates seeking the Republican presidential nomination have argued that Biden’s promotion of electric vehicles and solar energy makes the United States more dependent on its main economic rival, China, for necessary components and that reducing emissions at home does not matter. when other countries continue to pollute.
“If we really want to change the environment, then we have to start telling China and India that they have to reduce their emissions,” former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley said at the press conference. first republican debate last month.
O’Mara, an informal adviser to Biden’s reelection campaign, said the United States needs to pressure other nations to act before Biden can build support for new domestic climate measures.
“If we don’t hold polluters in India and China accountable first, politics will be almost impossible,” O’Mara said.
Perhaps even worse for Biden is that unionized auto workers are uncomfortable with his regulations designed to shift the U.S. market away from gasoline cars and toward electric vehicles. Concerned that electric vehicles require fewer workers and a transition could cost jobs, the The United Auto Workers has so far refused to endorse Biden. The union went on strike Thursday against the country’s largest automakers, in part over demands that workers at electric vehicle battery factories be covered by the UAW contract.
That discontent could spread to workers in the steel and cement industries if new regulations mean fewer jobs.
Sean O’Neill, senior vice president of government affairs for the Portland Cement Association, which represents most of the country’s 20 cement makers, said his industry would welcome federal help to decarbonize and would consider supporting some form of a carbon tariff. , Under some conditions. circumstances. But he would oppose regulations that could limit the availability of materials to construct and repair buildings and bridges, he said.
“Any policy that could hinder domestic cement production could be problematic for the downstream industries: concrete and construction,” he said.
At Biden’s campaign headquarters in Wilmington, the messaging strategy moves away from regulations and instead highlights the impacts of extreme weather and climate denial by Republicans.
Biden leaned into those themes at one point September 10 press conference, saying: “The only existential threat facing humanity, even more terrifying than nuclear war, is global warming exceeding 1.5 degrees in the next 20 to 10 years. That would be a real problem. There is no way back”.
Recent polls show that Americans are concerned about climate change and think the government and large corporations should do more to combat it, but opinions are mixed when it comes to specific policies.
In surveys this year by the Pew Research Center, 66 percent of adults said the government should encourage wind and solar energy, while only 31 percent want the country to phase out fossil fuels. Respondents were divided on the question of whether the government should encourage the use of electric vehicles: 43 percent said it should, 14 percent said it should not, and 43 percent said it should neither encourage nor discourage.
While 54 percent of adults surveyed by Pew said climate change was a major threat to the country’s well-being; Respondents ranked it 17th out of 21 national issues in a January survey. “Even for Democrats, who say it’s important, it’s not the main issue,” said Alec Tyson, a researcher who helped conduct the poll.
Biden’s campaign is betting that the real-time damage caused by climate disasters compounded by climate change will hit a demographic the president especially needs: young voters in large numbers.
“Climate is one of the biggest issues for us, and as we get older it will continue to be,” said Rep. Maxwell Frost, 26, D-Fla., who serves on the Biden campaign’s advisory council and is the only member of the Generation Z Congress.
“Climate is paramount throughout the South, especially here in Florida, where we are on the front lines of the climate crisis, with hot tub temperatures in the surrounding ocean,” Frost said, speaking by phone from his Orlando district shortly afterward. It was flooded by Hurricane Idalia. “Ocean water, record heat after the hurricane, record water temperatures – these are things we know and feel.”