Biden’s Backtrack on Fossil Fuels

By: Stanley Rousseau

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this post are those of the author, and do not necessarily
reflect views of the Journal, the William H. Bowen School of Law, or UA Little Rock.

On September 17, 2023, tens of thousands of protesters flooded the streets of New York City to voice their discontent with President Biden’s policies on climate change. The March to End Fossil Fuels attracted protesters of all ages to meet in Manhattan at the onset of Climate Week NYC, an annual event gathering leaders from government, the private sector, and civil society to discuss global warming. While the protests were in coordination with global protests on climate change ahead of a UN General Assembly meeting, the March to End Fossil Fuels narrowed the protests to address the Biden Administration’s climate policies specifically. In an open letter to President Biden, organizers of the march called on the President to “stop approving fossil fuel projects, phase out fossil fuel production on federal lands, and halt oil and gas exports.”

Amidst the hottest year on record, Biden has faced criticism in recent months for approving the controversial Willow Project in the northern slope of Alaska, greenlighting the Mountain Valley Pipeline in Appalachia, and continuing to lease public lands for oil and gas drilling. While Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act into law in 2022, the largest investment in climate action in United States history, he has fallen short of his campaign promises to end fossil fuel drilling on public lands. At a town hall meeting in February 2020, he stated, “And by the way, no more drilling on federal lands, period. Period, period, period.”

However, Biden sang a different tune when it came time to stand up to ConocoPhillips and their oil leases in the northern slope of Alaska. When discussing the decision to approve the leases, Biden said, “My strong inclination was to disapprove of it across the board, but the advice I got from counsel was that if that were the case, we may very well lose in court.” Biden may be right. If the administration were to start challenging leases, it may start losing court battles that cost taxpayer dollars and allow companies to drill on public lands anyway.

President Biden’s hands are not completely tied though. By invoking the National Emergencies Act and the Defense Production Act, Biden can halt offshore drilling and speed up domestic production of green, sustainable energy. With the effects of climate change worsening with each passing year, bold action is required. Younger generations are tired of hearing empty platitudes of incremental change to address the climate crisis. World leaders have been moving the goalposts for too long. While the Inflation Reduction Act will certainly help the U.S. meet certain climate goals under the Paris Climate Agreement, President Biden has the opportunity to set an example for the rest of the world. With the invocation of the National Emergencies Act, President Biden can stand up to ConocoPhillips, stop the extraction of oil and gas in millions of acres of federal waters, and even restrict international trade of crude oil. President Biden has the power to push the United States into a greener future sooner rather than later.

The March to End Fossil Fuels was planned by over 650 organizations, many of which were youth activist groups. Young voters are increasingly pointing to climate change as a key voting issue. Emma Burretta, 17, an organizer with Fridays for Future NYC told the New York Times, “If you want our vote, if you don’t want the blood of our generations to be on your hands, end fossil fuels.” Youth activists are tired of the incremental change that government leaders have been offering for decades.

The urgency of the climate crisis cannot be overstated, and the administration has the tools at its disposal to make meaningful changes. The massive turnout of protesters during the March to End Fossil Fuels in New York City sent a clear message to the Biden Administration and the world at large. The passionate voices of tens of thousands of demonstrators, including many young activists, demand immediate and decisive action on climate change. While President Biden has taken steps towards addressing climate change, he has failed to fully align with his campaign promises. By invoking the National Emergencies Act and the Defense Production Act, President Biden can accelerate the transition to sustainable energy and set a powerful example for the international community. Young voters are calling for bold leadership and an end to fossil fuels. The time for incremental change has passed. Now is the time for President Biden to take decisive steps to combat climate change and secure the well-being of future generations.

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