Climate action groups expressed cautious optimism Friday after the Biden administration unveiled plans to immediately eliminate federal support for overseas fossil fuel projectsanswering a demand long made by advocates and lawmakersbut warned that the new policy contains significant loopholes and called on the White House to take further action.
"The loopholes for 'strategic' projects, and the lack of action at home, leave big gaps."
According to a cable sent from administration to officials to U.S. embassies all over the world late last week, and first reported on by Bloomberg Friday, the U.S. for the first time will end federal support for coal terminals, power plants, and other projects.
"Our international energy engagement will center on promoting clean energy, advancing innovative technologies, boosting U.S. clean-tech competitiveness and providing financing and technical assistance to support net-zero transitions around the world," the officials told the embassies.
The move is expected to bring to a halt billions of dollars in annual overseas fossil fuel funding, including an average of $16 billion that went to natural gas projects between 2017 and 2019, according to the International Institute for Sustainable Development.
Jamie Henn, director of Fossil Free Media, credited "years of campaigning" by advocacy groups with pushing President Joe Biden to come to the decision, and called the announcement "a big step forward."
But loopholes in the plan did not go unnoticed by Henn and other advocates. As the Washington Post reported, funding will still be available for projects related to "compelling national security concerns, foreign policy considerations, or the need to expand energy access in vulnerable areas."
"The loopholes for 'strategic' projects, and the lack of action at home, leave big gaps," Henn tweeted. "Its time to end government support for all fossil fuels everywhere."
Bronwen Tucker, global public finance campaign co-manager for Oil Change International, expressed hope that the exemptions to the new guidance could be "implemented in good faith," in which case the policy "should end almost all U.S. international finance for fossil fuels."
"But if they are poorly interpreted, it could allow up to 61% ($6.9 billion) of U.S. international fossil fuel support since the Paris Agreement to continue," said Tucker. "The U.S. must also be much more ambitious and specific on how it will provide its fair share of climate finance, debt forgiveness, and renewable energy funding abroad to support a just transition."
Advocates also pushed the president to end support for fossil fuel projects in the U.S., including the Enbridge Line 3 and Dakota Access pipelines.
"Taxpayer money should not subsidize the destruction of the planet," said Rep. Nanette Barragan (D-Calif.), who was among the lawmakers who signed a letter in May calling on Biden to end overseas fossil fuel funding. "We also need to repeal fossil fuel subsidies here at home."