Biden’s new energy rules must stop an existential climate threat: Donald Trump 

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In his first three years in office, Joe Biden has done more through legislation, regulation, and diplomacy to combat catastrophic climate change than any president in history. But Biden knows all too well that much of this progress would be rapidly undone if avowed climate denier Donald Trump becomes president again.  

As the 2024 campaign against Trump begins in earnest, Biden is revising key energy and climate rules to make them more beneficial to middle-income consumers, businesses and, he hopes, swing state voters. In the process, he should create regulatory and tax policies on climate that will be more enduring for consumers and the economy in the long run, while also helping him win a second term. 

Revising rules regarding electric vehicle options is by far the most important climate and energy electoral issue Biden faces, one that could tip the election in a razor-close outcome of just a few thousand votes in just a few key states.  

Last month, the administration wisely announced a decision to revise overly strict draft EPA auto fuel efficiency and emissions standards, which would in effect have required two-thirds of all new cars to be all-electric by 2032, even though today only about fewer than 10 percent of new cars are all electric. The initial rules were out of step with real-world purchasing and production, prompting attacks from both Trump Republicans and some consumers. EV adoption, although rapid, has been a bit slower than anticipated, with GM, Ford and other automakers trimming EV production from previously announced levels.  

But when revising these standards, the administration needs to provide more options for transition vehicles that offer consumers greater range, convenience and cost benefits to gain greatest political benefit.  

Plug-in hybrids, for example, are cheaper to buy than most all-electric EVs, and directly address the “range anxiety” issue of concern for many car buyers — that is, the fear of running out of electric power on the road without a nearby charging station — since hybrid vehicles have backup gasoline engines. For many motorists, new plug-ins can also operate for everyday trips on rechargeable batteries, and so have much lower emissions than gasoline-only vehicles — almost as low as EVs. Indeed, a plug-in was just announced the greenest U.S. car.  

And plug-in hybrids require fewer rare earth minerals than all-electric vehicles. This is a crucial issue when the U.S. is attempting to shake free from reliance on Chinese mining and processing of these minerals. 

As both an economic and political matter, the White House should revise pending fuel economy rules so that vehicles like plug-in hybrids can better qualify and consumers have more transition vehicle options over the next decade. This action will be crucial to changing popular and political narrative on the electric vehicle transition away from proscribing just all electrics toward Biden offering greater consumer options. Such changes will help reduce the urban-rural cultural divide over electric vehicles, and undercut the negative narrative of an EV culture war Trump and other Republicans are fomenting. 

The Biden EPA also recently announced its intention to regulate emissions from existing and new coal-fired power plants and from new gas-fired power plants, but not existing gas plants. This delay on regulating existing gas plants means that they will not immediately face a requirement to capture their carbon dioxide emissions before 2040, another prudent decision, since such regulations would be deliberately misconstrued by Republicans and misunderstood by voters ahead of the election (and could in any event be subject to lawsuits and congressional reviews undermining their effectiveness). Handling regulations on existing gas plants after the election in a second Biden term is far more likely method to successfully cut emissions by promulgating regulations that will stand up to congressional and legal challenge. 

Finally, the administration’s recent decisions have generally favored existing climate and emissions models so ethanol can keep playing a role in reducing U.S. auto emissions, and especially to allow ethanol used for sustainable aviation fuel to better qualify for important tax credits. While additional decisions are still to come, Biden should allow ethanol to continue to displace oil, while also benefitting swings states like Wisconsin and key Democratic farm districts in the Midwest and Corn Belt. 

Some of Biden’s recent actions have been more symbolic than policy driven. The administration’s highly questionable decision to put a pause on LNG export licenses was firmly aimed at the youth vote and obstreperous climate activists who threaten to publicly besmirch Biden’s sterling climate credentials. Yet the Biden team has made the mitigation of methane emissions from U.S. natural gas a top priority; U.S. gas has far lower lifecycle emissions than not only natural gas competitors like Russia, according to most analysis, but also coal. Far-left activists have ignored this accomplishment that will lower U.S. methane and overall greenhouse gas emissions even more in coming years.  

Assuming he’s reelected, Biden should continue to be even more aggressive at demanding methane cuts from industry, but then emphasize the role of lower methane emissions in legitimizing further U.S. gas exports on climate ground — a position especially important in the gas-producing swing state of Pennsylvania. 

Unfortunately, some Democrats have introduced legislation to prevent U.S. natural gas from being exported to China, despite the fact that the alternative to U.S. gas is higher methane leaking gas from Vladimir Putin’s Russia or Chinese coal, which has both higher carbon dioxide and high methane emissions. This misguided proposal would in fact increase global emissions, not reduce them.  

The putative reason for the legislation is the false contention that U.S. domestic natural gas prices have increased in recent years as exports have grown. In fact, over the last two years, even as U.S. exports have helped Europe break free of addiction to Vladimir Putin’s gas, U.S. domestic gas prices have stayed low, with additional production volumes making the difference. 

More broadly, the U.S. political and climate communities have yet to acknowledge the wisdom of Biden’s election-year climate and energy shift toward consumers. And of course Trump’s reactionary forces will falsely attack Biden’s thoughtful policies as culture war symbols. But from both a climate and economic perspective, Biden efforts to meet the concerns of consumers and voters are the most responsible way forward. And they are also crucial to making sure Donald Trump’s scorched earth policies never see the Oval Office again. 

Paul Bledsoe is a professorial lecturer at American University’s Center for Environmental Policy. He served as a staff member in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate, as an Interior Department official, and on the White House Climate Change Task Force under former President Bill Clinton. 

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