What Did Biden Say About Climate and Energy in State of the Union Address?
In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Joe Biden touted progress made on climate and the environment during his first two years in office and called out Big Oil for raking in record profits during the energy crisis.
However, while he rallied the nation behind addressing the climate crisis, he gave no details about how he plans to tackle it during the second half of his current term in office.
“The climate crisis doesn’t care if your state is red or blue. It is an existential threat,” Biden said, according to a White House transcript of his pre-prepared speech. “We have an obligation to our children and grandchildren to confront it. I’m proud of how America is at last stepping up to the challenge. But there’s so much more to do. We will finish the job.”
The first part of Biden’s speech was focused on what he and Congress had managed to achieve during the first two years of his presidency. This included the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which he called the “most significant investment ever to tackle the climate crisis.”
Biden emphasized plans to invest in clean energy, build 500,000 electric vehicle (EV) charging stations using unionized workers from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and to offer families more than $1,000 in tax credits for purchasing either EVs or more energy efficient appliances.
He also painted the IRA as a climate adaptation measure designed to lessen the impact of extreme weather events by building stronger electric grids and making roads and water systems flood resilient.
“I’ve visited the devastating aftermaths of record floods and droughts, storms and wildfires,” he said. “In addition to emergency recovery from Puerto Rico to Florida to Idaho, we are rebuilding for the long term.”
Beyond climate, he also boosted the environmental justice aspects of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
“We’re also replacing poisonous lead pipes that go into 10 million homes and 400,000 schools and childcare centers, so every child in America can drink clean water,” he said.
The Hill noted that he invited Milwaukee anti-lead pipe activist Deanna Branch, whose son suffered from lead poisoning, as one of his guests for the evening.
However, once he had established his record, Biden gave very few details about his climate and environmental policies going forward. Biden faces a divided Congress following the Republican House victory in the midterm elections, which may make it harder for him to attempt ambitious legislative goals. The New York Times noted that his speech was short on far-reaching proposals in general, focusing on single-issue solutions like curing cancer and addressing mental health and opioid addiction.
The closest he came to giving more details on climate action was in the lead up to a proposal to increase taxes on wealthy corporations.
“[W]e pay for these investments in our future by finally making the wealthiest and the biggest corporations begin to pay their fair share,” he said.
Biden called for both a billionaire minimum tax and quadrupling the tax on corporate stock buybacks.
In arguing for these measures, Biden called out the fossil fuel industry specifically.
“You may have noticed that Big Oil just reported record profits. Last year, they made $200 billion in the midst of a global energy crisis. It’s outrageous,” he said.
However, the speech overall revealed a conflicted relationship to the oil and gas industry. While Biden criticized them for profiting at the expense of U.S. drivers at the pump, he did not link their activities to the climate crisis, Grist noted. Instead, he argued that they should have invested more of their profits in domestic production without any mention of pivoting to renewable energy.
Further, he went off book twice to say that the fuels would still be needed in the short term, Bloomberg reported.
“We’re still going to need oil and gas for a while,” he said in an aside that was not included in the official transcript.
He further specified, “We’re going to need oil for at least another decade beyond that.”
Bloomberg said that these off-the-cuff remarks likely reflect tension with fossil fuel companies that have expressed to Biden their concern that it is not worth investing in oil wells or refineries because he will just shutter them as part of his climate plans.
Environmental groups and experts, on the other hand, say that Biden needs to do more to fulfill U.S. climate commitments and avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis. The Center for Biological Diversity Action Fund has given the administration overall a C grade on a report card released Tuesday.
“Biden may want to declare mission accomplished on climate because of the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, but he needs to do so much more to avoid a climate catastrophe,” Brett Hartl, chief political strategist at the Center for Biological Diversity Action Fund, said in a statement. “The president is still far too cozy with the fossil fuel industry and is failing to make the hard choices needed to ensure a livable planet.”
Evergreen Action Executive Director Jamal Reed told Grist that the IRA does not bring the U.S. far enough to meet its international commitment of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2030. Instead, it is projected to cut them 42 percent by that date.
“The IRA and the current baseline do not get us where we need to honor climate commitments,” Reed told Grist. “We need to push states to go further faster than they ever were before with these investments. We need to implement rapidly, equitably, and efficiently the Inflation Reduction Act and make sure we’re getting those dollars out the door.”