On Biden’s Climate Track Record—and $1 Gas

Photograph Source: The White House – Public Domain

President Biden is said to be in deep trouble with the youth and environmentalist voting bloc over breaking his 2020 campaign promise of “no more drilling on federal lands, period! Period, period, period!!” and failure to stop the completion of a natural-gas pipeline. Tens of thousands of them aim to end fossil fuels’ major and fatal role in global climate change caused chiefly by carbon dioxide emissions into Earth’s atmosphere.

Their outcries and unending opposition to Big Oil’s fossil-fuel operations have recently focused on two targets.

First is the approval in mid-March of drilling permits to ConocoPhillips on the Willow Project’s Indiana-size section of the National Petroleum Reserve on Alaska’s North Slope. Previous presidents approved Conoco’s leases since the 1990s. If ever developed, emission projections are for 9.2 million metric tons of annual carbon emissions.

The second perceived betrayal has been his agreement with House Republican Speaker Kevin McCarthy for permits to complete the $6.6 billion natural gas Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) in West Virginia and Virginia. Despite their environmental nature, the permits have been artfully slipped into the critical debt-ceiling limit bill awaiting Biden’s signature to prevent the nation’s first default and inability to pay its bills. The completion of MVP would release 89 million metric tons of carbon, equal to emissions from 26 coal plants or 19 million cars.

However, all is not necessarily inevitable.

An official at Oil Change International (OCI) indicates Biden could redeem those projected losses, mostly by emphasizing his past and present positive environmental record of the last two years in the next 17 months to Election Day. OCI’s U.S. co-manager Allie Rosenbluth pointed out that:

President Biden must enforce a clean debt ceiling package that does not allow for any rollbacks to National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) or other bedrock environmental laws. While his recent climate track record has been nothing short of disastrous, it is not too late for him to turn it around and hold true to his environmental justice campaign promises.

In fairness, his environmental credentials have been outstanding compared to his predecessors. But they are largely unknown or forgotten today by most voters. He and his aides and climate staff have amassed an undeniable climate record in the last two years.

It started in the final 2020 presidential debate, when Biden risked losing donors and major retaliation from the gas/oil industry by correctly predicting it would be eventually replaced by renewable energy. Moreover, if elected, he would “stop giving it federal subsidies ($20 billion annually ).” At least 45 House Democrats agreed as cosponsors of Oregon’s Earl Blumenauer’s supportive bill “End Oil and Gas Tax Subsidies Act of 2021 .” Filed on March 26, it was assigned that same day to the Ways and Means committee and never got to a floor vote. That may well change shortly with public awareness their taxes are subsidizing the industry charging them nearly $6 at the pump.

The first day in office, Biden authorized rejoining the Paris Agreement Treaty. A week later, he issued Executive Order 14008 setting up the White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy. It would partner with his advising and policymaking Council on Environmental Quality, and use a National Climate Task Force for action to ensure every federal agency “prioritize acting on climate change.”

He then announced a goal of 50 percent of new cars and light trucks be “zero-emission vehicles” by 2030, and, later, 100 percent of medium and heavy-duty trucks by 2040. By April, when Republicans in Congress succeeded in passing a bill to end EPA protections of the Clean Water Act, Biden vetoed it.

Internationally, he joined 100 other leaders in September to sign U.S. participation in the Global Methane Pledge to reduce the world’s methane emissions by 30 percent from 2020 levels by 2030.

Last June, it was his Defense Production Act for a two-year tariff freeze on imported solar panels and heat pumps for homes, factories, and farms. Then, though Biden’s $2 trillion ambitious Build Back Better bill of September 2021 stalled in Congress ($555 billion for climate), it was revised as the Inflation Reduction Act and passed last August providing a historic $391 billion for clean energy and climate projects. By October, he was giving $2.8 billion to 20 battery companies agreeing to hiring practices of “diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

This year, Biden’s implemented other actions following his State of the Union blast in January at Big Oil’s stratospheric profits for 2022 (“outrageous”): Exxon : $56 billion; Shell: $42.3 billion; TotalEnergy: $36.2 billion; ConocoPhillips: $18.7 billion, etc.

With a FY2023 budget allocation of $44.9 billion for climate, he added the Justice40 Initiative a few weeks ago to revitalize President Clinton’s 1994 Executive Order (No. 12898) : environmental justice for minority and low-income people. Biden’s mandated goal is to deliver 40 percent of the federal government’s benefits — “clean energy, affordable and sustainable housing, clean water, and other investments” —to low-income and minority communities suffering pollution. Nineteen federal agencies are involved in the initiative’s 470 programs. Not long after this, he announced a regulation requiring most fossil-fuel power companies to prepare for cutting 90 percent of gas emissions between 2035 and 2040.

Yet most of these actions are unknown to voters either ignoring or denying global-warming. They are highly unlikely to rise by the millions, like Vietnam war protesters, to demand half of the Pentagon’s allocations be spent on a “climate-protection war.” For them, it seems as if doing battle against an overwhelming foe either causes “inaction guilt,” “climate anxiety ” or is viewed as a lost cause. Or, shockingly, that the subject is boring.

Like it or not, it probably won’t be long before Biden and his climate teams shift attention to those behind the wheel pumping untold millions of carbon and other elements into the atmosphere. Gas and oil rationing will be an outrageous awakening to the climate war, particularly to diehard deniers. The right to drive is so deeply embedded in our culture that any impingement is akin to actions against the right to bear arms. Yet major rationing programs have been mandated twice in the late 1900s because of wars in Europe and the Mideast.

During World War II, rationing covered basic necessities of gas, food, and clothing. Millions were super-patriotic, but infuriated by ration books and stamps, the weekly four-gallon gas limit, and a maximum speed of 35. Most were well aware the rationing system was rife with cheating, bribery, extortion, the black market, but also with bureaucratic missteps at local, state, and federal levels.

Rationing returned in 1973-74 when the Mideast’s oil cartel (OPEC) —incensed about U.S. support of Israel against Egypt’s effort to recover its lost territory—set off a near year-long embargo of oil sales to this country. Because of the WWII disastrous experience, federal designers vowed to make rationing simpler, fairer—and far less costly in paper supplies.

Pump sales were by even and odd days based on the last digit of license-plate numbers. Yet it led to public fury about wasting gas in hunting stations flying green flags for gas, red for none, and refusal to answer their phones. Worse, it meant miles-long lines at stations, hours-long waits, and mayhem, according to the Smithsonian Magazine (“Fights broke out, and some station owners began carrying guns for self-protection”).

But based on Biden’s words and deeds and the increasing numbers of activists and their highly creative visibility, it’s obvious that a drastic decrease of motorists’ carbon emissions is ahead. Why else would EPA be busy calculating carbon emissions from gas-powered vehicles? It reported the typical passenger car and light pickup emitted not only 4.6 metric tons of carbon per year, but also methane (CH4)and nitrous oxide (N2O) from the tailpipe and hydrofluorocarbon emissions from leaking air conditioners. Both have higher global-warming numbers than carbon dioxide.

So Biden Administration’s climate-staffers have to be desperately seeking far better ways than old-fashioned overt rationing to cut our gas use and abuse.

For instance, why not consider a voluntary plan that for once actually uses a positive, yet practical, approach to bargain-hunters? Like offering a $1 per gallon deal for a weekly maximum of 10 gallons per vehicle. For a $10 annual membership fee, participants would receive a federal credit card designating them, say, to be a “Gold-Star Driver” or “Planet Protector.” The card could be used at any gas station whose home company receives governmental subsidies or tax breaks.

Profits lost at the pump by members would be reimbursed monthly to oil companies by the government. Its federal Task Force would monitor receipts submitted by gas stations for payouts of the difference between $1 and regular prices. Monitors would also detect violators of the weekly ration per vehicle by card number, license plate, purchase, and gallonage. Penalties? Cancellation of card, and a suggested $10,000 fine and three years in federal prison.

An Arco shift manager in Portland OR, Aaron Belanger, endorsed such a program, adding: “Make sure customers also have to show their driver’s licenses and insurance cards.” That would stop members from registering multiple cards with different names.

Reimbursements would be covered by the membership fee, but also a combination of those federal subsidies, a portion of the company’s tax breaks—and perhaps a Biden Executive Order for a percentage of its excess profits for the previous year. If 30 percent of the nation’s 243.4 million licensed drivers enroll, the government would earn an annual $730.2 membership fees; at 50 percent, $1.2 million.

The plan’s advantages are obvious and numerous.

For the environment:

+ decreasing carbon emissions

+ increasing motorists’ awareness of global warming

+ increasing volunteers to fight global warming

For the $1 member:

+ helping to fight global warming

+ decreasing in gas price ($1 per gallon)

+ decreasing maintenance needs and costs (oil changes, etc)

+ decreasing wear on tires

+ decreasing mileage by ganging errands and car pooling

+ decreasing wear on roads and highways

For the gas station:

+ increasing customers

+ ease in making change

+ decreasing bookkeeping, reports to company

+ Ends providing free coffee

For the gas/oil industry:

+ increasing customers

+ increasing profits by volume sales

+ federal reimbursements from the $1 “loss-leader”

+ federal monitoring eases bookkeeping, identifying and punishing violators

The $1 plan is scarcely the only one available, of course, to keep fossil fuels in the ground. Other cheaper and emission-free power sources are rapidly phasing out fossil-fuels, as Biden predicted. The auto industry’s major shift to electrical vehicles —320,00 sold in the US first quarter of 2023— and the “shattering growth ” of solar/wind power use, according to the International Energy Agency, are overtaking coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear energy.

A year ago, Biden favored doing a national climate emergency proclamation to deal with the increasing climate disasters in this country. He’s been faulted for not using it thus far. But a far more effective measure would be to issue an Executive Order declaring permits for both the Willow project and West Virginia’s Mountain Valley pipeline need further environmental reviews under the new Justice40 Initiative. That could take a few years.

In the meantime, Biden, his aides and climate teams are on the front lines, no matter what heavy artillery the industry and his opponents use in the 2024 election season. He and his staff do hear many environmentalists’ denunciations of “betrayal,” or cries for speedups on fighting climate change—but also an awakening public’s realization that “the planet is on fire!”

If a successful, non-violent movement requires only 3.5 of a country’s population (U.S. over 18: 9.1 million), maybe $1 gas would convince them to help put it out.