President Joe Biden has made significant accomplishments when it comes to climate change: the $391 billion Inflation Reduction Act, signed into law last August, is the biggest climate bill ever. And unlike previous bills that have been considered (but not passed) in Congress, it actually takes climate justice into account, too.
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Biden also signed the Justice40 executive order shortly after taking office, which requires that 40% of federal spending programs like the IRA benefit “disadvantaged communities that are marginalized, underserved, and overburdened by pollution.”
Spurred by new subsidies, including in the IRA, there has been a rush of new programs ranging from efforts to electrify heating systems in 8 million low-income homes to spending billions on improving the climate resiliency of coastal communities, including tribal ones.
There’s more than $18 billion earmarked for projects that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions in low-income communities. and a new, non-IRA project to spend $440 million on roof-top solar in Puerto Rico.
Add in the American Climate Corps, which will train up to 20,000 young Americans for jobs in climate-friendly industries, and it might seem like Biden is doing great when it comes to both climate and climate justice. But that’s only part of the story, as activists were more than glad to point out at the Department of Energy’s Justice Week conference on November 1.
“The Biden administration is speaking out of both sides of their mouth,” Roishetta Ozane of the Texas Campaign for the Environment said at the Community Voices from the Ground panel. “They say they care about frontline and environmental justice communities, but they have yet to address the fact that the air we breathe is making us sick, giving us asthma and skin conditions.”
Not only did the EPA drop its potentially landmark investigation of discrimination in Cancer Alley, but the Biden Administration has been friendly to the oil and gas industry, too. He approved the Willow oil drilling project, which is on public land in Alaska, despite vowing to end drilling on public lands. He also approved more drilling permits on public land in his first two years in office than Trump did.
But what’s especially frustrated environmental justice advocates is the Biden administration’s approval of a few liquified natural gas projects in Texas — and the potential approval of another proposed LNG export hub planned for Cameron Parish on the Louisiana coast that has been called a “carbon mega bomb.”
Writing in the New Yorker, environmentalist Bill McKibben said that the development of LNG infrastructure like the Texas projects and the potential Louisiana one “is by far the largest example of fossil-fuel expansion currently proposed anywhere in the world.”
While Cameron Parish is predominantly white, other LNG projects, like a $21 billion export facility proposal for Plaquemines, Louisiana, and another slated for Lake Charles, Louisiana, would be built in predominantly Black communities.
Of course, the steps the Biden administration’s taken so far seem groundbreaking compared to the climate denialism of the Republican leadership and their candidates for president.
Louisiana Republican Mike Johnson, the new Speaker of the House, does not believe in climate change. And in late August, during the first candidate forum, the then-eight Republican hopefuls for president were asked point-blank: “Do you believe human behavior is causing climate change? Raise your hand if you do.”
Not one raised their hand. Instead, the Republican party seems to be focused on framing climate change as a culture war issue — wanting clean air and water and stopping summer from feeling like you’re sitting in an oven is now a “woke” issue, like critical race theory and reforming police.
But with the window to keep warming to under 1.5 degrees Celsius closing rapidly, if it’s not already closed, the stakes are higher than ever — particularly when it comes to such large projects that will continue to emit well past the net-zero cut-off of 2050. Biden may have already done more than any other President has when it comes to climate change, but that doesn’t mean that he has done enough.