Progressive climate campaigners on Wednesday overwhelmingly called U.S. President Joe Biden's plan for the federal government to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 an inadequate attempt to address the worsening climate emergency.
"Biden cannot make an announcement like this and also reopen oil and gas leasing, nor approve more oil and gas permits on federal lands. That's taking one step forward and two steps back."
The White House said an executive order signed by Biden "demonstrates how the United States will leverage its scale and procurement power to lead by example in tackling the climate crisis," and will "reduce emissions across federal operations, invest in American clean energy industries and manufacturing, and create clean, healthy, and resilient communities."
Biden's order aims for the federal government to run on carbon-free electricity by the end of the decade, a step toward realizing a 65% reduction in emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2050.
To help achieve this, the government would end purchases of gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035, transition to a "net-zero emissions building portfolio by 2045, including a 50% emissions reduction by 2032," as well as implement a "Buy Clean" policy "to promote use of construction materials with lower embodied emissions."
Mitch Jones, managing director of advocacy programs at Food & Water Watch, said in a statement that "while this executive order lays out noteworthy investments in solar energy and important changes in transportation and energy efficiency, their effectiveness is undermined by the White House's failures to address the root cause of the climate crisis: Fossil fuel development."
If Biden was actually serious about tackling the climate crisis, he would ban new oil and gas extraction on federal lands like he repeatedly promised to do. Instead, the White House continues to approve new drilling and fracking projects on public lands, and just conducted a massive sale of offshore drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico. The administration also seems eager to expand the export of fossil fuels, creating new sources of climate, air, and water pollution at home.
"The focus on 'net-zero' and zero-emissions goals leaves the door open for expensive and dirty energy infrastructure including nuclear and fossil fuel-based hydrogen," Jones added. "We need President Biden to stop pushing policies that will keep us hooked on dirty energy."
Bill Snape, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity, said that "2050 is an extremely weak goal for the federal government to free itself from climate-heating pollution."
"It ignores existing technology and adds decades to GSA's own commitment to 100% renewable energy by 2025," he said, a reference to the U.S. General Service Administration's April 2021 decarbonization plan.
"This is like a teenager promising to clean their room in 30 years," Snape added. "We need action now."
Brooke Harper, U.S. campaign manager at 350.org, said in a statement that "we recognize and appreciate President Biden's effort; it is imperative that the federal government set an example for a clean energy future and transitioning federal vehicles, buildings, and energy sources is an important step."
"However, we need to see consistency in Biden's climate efforts on all fronts if he is to be a 'climate president,'" she argued. "Biden cannot make an announcement like this and also reopen oil and gas leasing, nor approve more oil and gas permits on federal lands. That's taking one step forward and two steps back."
Despite campaign pledges to halt fossil fuel extraction from public lands and waters, Biden's administration has approved drilling permits at a faster rate than either former presidents Donald Trump or Barack Obama.
Common Dreams reported Monday that the U.S. Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management has approved an average of 333 oil and gas drilling permits per month this year40% more than the agency did during the first three years of Trump's tenure.
"If Biden wants to be the climate president, it's time to stand up against the fossil fuel industry, pass executive actions that actually meet the moment of the climate crisis, whip support from every elected official in his own party, and seize this narrow window of opportunity to pass climate legislation while Democrats still have a governing coalition," Sunrise Movement campaign director Deirdre Shelly said in a statement. "Anything less is a failure."