Biden Is Right to Aim High on Climate

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Even if President Joe Biden had no ground to make up — if his predecessor hadn’t pulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement and done his best to stop all progress toward climate protection — he still would have needed an aggressive new target for lowering emissions. The country’s previous Paris commitment was too modest for the U.S. to do its part in bringing global warming under control. In addition, Biden wants the U.S. to take up its proper leading role in setting standards for the world.

The mark the president has set — to cut emissions to at least half their 2005 level by 2030 — is the right one. It’s suitably ambitious, calling for drastic transformations in energy use and farm and industrial practices. And its nine-year time frame is short enough to spur actions immediately and in the foreseeable future — not decades down the road.

Those actions are what will matter. Biden has broadly indicated that he intends the effort to encompass every part of the economy. He wants to get Americans to travel on electric power, and to live and work in energy-efficient houses and buildings. He wants to get power plants using mostly renewable energy. He wants to stem methane pollution from oil wells, gas wells and farms, and reduce emissions from factory furnaces. To meet the 2030 goal, the White House will need to make rapid progress on every front.

Biden can push some changes via regulation. His Environmental Protection Agency is already moving to return to tough Obama-era restrictions on tailpipe emissions, for example, which encourage carmakers to move toward all-electric fleets. The EPA can also re-strengthen rules for controlling methane emissions from oil and gas wells. The Department of Energy can expand its investments in developing batteries, clean grids, “green” hydrogen fuels and methane-capture technologies.

But the president will need to work with lawmakers — in Congress and in states and cities — to accomplish much of the change required. One of the most significant moves now on the table is to establish a national clean energy standard, which would set deadlines for power plants to boost their use of renewable and nuclear power. Many states already have their own clean energy standards, and have demonstrated how effective these can be in driving progress toward cleaner, cheaper electricity.

The standard that the White House has included in the $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan aims to decarbonize electricity generation entirely by 2035. This would eliminate one-fourth of U.S. emissions, shrinking the carbon footprint of electric cars and appliances. The administration should aim to design its standard so that it can be passed in the Senate via reconciliation, on a simple majority vote.

Working with Congress, the administration can also build out electric-vehicle charging infrastructure and give states incentives to help speed the closure of coal-fired power plants, stop the construction of new gas-fired plants, and establish clean building codes.

Opponents of change are correct to say such efforts will be expensive — though they stand to pay great dividends in the form of jobs and health, as well as climate preservation. And failing to take drastic action is certain to cost more. Slashing U.S. emissions as quickly as possible, and urging other countries to follow suit, is Biden’s only responsible choice.

Editorials are written by the Bloomberg Opinion editorial board.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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