Federal investments to address climate change, Joe Biden has long said, are about investing in the economy and creating jobs.
But now, amid a war that caused fuel prices to soar and American wallets to feel the pinch, his White House has been forced to reexamine how to balance its economic approach with the President’s past ambitious climate policy commitments.
Pitching his social spending plan to the public last year, the President said his proposed spending would create new jobs for America’s transition to cleaner energy and equip the country adequately to deal with the toll climate change has taken on American infrastructure. And last year at COP26, the President told world leaders that climate change posed an existential threat, saying that taking action was not just a moral imperative, but also an economic one.
But last fall, Biden’s proposal, known as Build Back Better, didn’t pass through the Senate. And at COP26, he failed to bring a law codifying his proposals to the table as a way to up the ante on other nations’ commitments toward climate change.
In these subsequent months, the nation has continued to be hamstrung by an economy complicated by the recovery from the pandemic, slowed supply chains and, more recently, the war in Ukraine. Congressional Republicans, meanwhile, have remained unswayed by Biden’s proposals on climate and the President’s potential regulatory moves in the works — like those to curb emissions — could face legal challenges.
In the weeks ahead of Friday’s Earth Day, the administration issued new efforts that Biden officials say do not contradict one another — taking steps to lower gas prices and, at the same time, work to strengthen environmental protections.
The newest step, an executive order aimed at safeguarding old-growth forests on federal lands, was signed by Biden at a park in Seattle on Friday.
The move comes as the American West enters its fire season and climate change fuels and intensifies wildfires across the world, upending lives and causing billions of dollars in damage.
“I think we’re in one of those moments in world history and in American history, where we’ve reached the point that the crisis on the environment has become so obvious — with the notable exception to the former President — that we really have an opportunity to do things we couldn’t have done two, five, 10 years ago,” Biden said.
The President said he sees the climate crisis as “a genuine opportunity — an opportunity to do things we wanted to do and only now have become so apparent.”
He brought up federal green energy investments that are included in the bipartisan infrastructure law he signed into law last fall, asserting that his administration’s efforts are “putting America on the cutting edge.”
“It’s incredible the breakthroughs that (we’re) making. Once you tell a nation that we can do this — go do it — it’s amazing what happens. It’s amazing what happens,” he said.
The President also committed to making US military vehicles “climate friendly.”
Biden also discussed a recent historic release from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and his issuing of an emergency waiver for E15, gasoline with a 15% ethanol blend, the White House has said.