Climate change: ‘We are not backing down,’ White House climate advisor says
Akiko Fujita, Anchor/Reporter – April 22, 2022
White House National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy defended the Biden administration’s policies to ease record energy prices, even as the president struggles to balance the immediate threat of inflation with long-term challenges posed by climate change.
Speaking to Yahoo Finance Live, McCarthy said the president’s commitment to halve U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels remains “absolute.”
“We’re not backing down,” McCarthy said. “Nor are we giving up on our targets. They are aggressive. But we are on target domestically to do what we need to do.”
McCarthy’s comments come amid growing unease among environmentalists that the White House is backing off of ambitious climate pledges set one year ago in the face of public frustration over rising energy costs.
The president rejoined the Paris Agreement on his first day in office, and vowed to lead global leaders in putting countries on path to carbon neutrality by 2050.
At the White House’s first Leaders Summit on Climate last year, Biden announced the U.S. would nearly double its commitment to reducing emissions, while aiming to eliminate fossil fuels from the country’s electric grids by 2035.
However, higher energy prices brought on by pandemic-related supply shortages and the Russia-Ukraine War have threatened to derail those policies. Gas prices have climbed nearly 20% between February and March, though they have moderated in recent weeks.
Under pressure to act, the president has publicly accused oil companies of holding back production to keep prices high. In March, Biden announced a record release of 1 million barrels of oil a day by tapping into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. He followed that by issuing an emergency waiver to allow for the year long sale of fuel with higher ethanol content, typically banned during the summer because of higher smog levels.
Last week, the Interior Department announced it would resume selling leases to drill in 145,000 acres of federal land across nine states, reversing his campaign pledge.
“The problem is that we have a Putin war that has actually created an emergency, which the president is making sure he takes control of,” McCarthy said. “We believe we can still get [to the climate targets] but we need Congress to help.”
Biden’s key climate and social spending bill, Build Back Better (BBB), remains stalled in Congress amid opposition from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), a crucial swing vote. McCarthy said lawmakers are looking to break up the $500 billion in climate initiatives tied up in BBB to ensure passage of policies that are critical to keeping the administration’s policies on track.
Manchin has held informal talks with the administration, and told staff that the legislation must be voted on before the August recess, according to the Washington Post.
“We know that Congress is interested in moving,” McCarthy said. “What we want to make sure we do is have enough conversations with Senator Manchin that we can be assured that we can move this forward in reconciliation.”
McCarthy has faced speculation about her own future within the administration as the climate agenda she helped craft sputters. Earlier this week, she released a statement amid reports she was planning to step down next month. McCarthy, who previously led the National Resources Defense Council, said she had no plans to return to the private sector just yet.
“I’m sticking around because there’s still so much more work to do,” she said. “I wouldn’t be staying around if I didn’t think that work was available to us.”
Akiko Fujita is an anchor and reporter for Yahoo Finance.