WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — President Joe Biden is implementing sweeping measures to address climate change, from pausing new oil and gas leases on federal land to cutting fossil fuel subsidies.
While considered the most ambitious U.S. effort to hold off the climate crisis, Biden’s executive actions carry political risk and are being met with mixed reactions.
To bring you both sides of the debate, NewsNation breaks down the issue with Aaron Weiss, of the conservation organization Center for Western Priorities, and Scott Lincicome, of the Cato Institute think tank.
For people who aren’t as close to the issue, what’s the headline for you?
“There are two big headlines for us. No. 1 is a pause on new leasing of oil and gas on public lands across America, and that’s primarily in the West. It gives the administration a chance to reset and craft an oil and gas leasing program that gets taxpayers fair return and accounts for the climate impacts of oil and gas drilling,” Weiss said. “And then the second big headline is the 30-by-30 pledge, that America will protect 30% of its land and ocean by the end of the decade.”
Meanwhile, Lincicome said he considered the biggest news to be “the potential refusal to renew permits that are already in place.”
“In terms of oil and gas investment, that one is the one that struck me as the most unexpected, and that could have, I think, the most significant economic impact for companies that have already put wells in the ground and already have those investments in place. That the uncertainty there is that the potential for some significant problems,” he explained.
What’s your stance on one big policy issue we’re hearing a lot about?
“I think the one we’ve heard a lot about is the cancellation of the Keystone pipeline. In some sense, I think this may be a bit overblown, given that the economics have changed dramatically with respect to oil and gas over the last decade that we’ve been all debating Keystone,” Lincicome said.
He explained that, “Given the evolution of the U.S. oil and gas sector or the growth of renewables, given the type of oil from Canada, there’s a little bit less urgency or need for that energy.”
“On the other hand, the diplomatic implications are potentially significant,” Lincicome said. “You have politicians in Edmonton already talking about retaliating against the United States for this. There’s potential litigation involved. To the extent that this actually gets into a bigger trade conflagration, well then I think we might have some problems.”
What about the people who are worried about the loss of jobs with these initiatives?
Weiss called it an opportunity to create jobs.
“The oil and gas industry is facing down a debt crisis of its own creation. The entire industry is over-leveraged and built on a house of cards that assumed much higher oil prices than we have seen and likely will ever see again,” Weiss said. “So the opportunity is to create jobs in renewables, invest significantly in off-shore wind, in renewable development on America’s public lands.”
But Lincicome called Weiss’ remarks “speculative.”
“We’re talking about real tangible jobs that exist right now, as compared to projections of jobs that would be stimulated by government spending,” Lincicome said. “Unfortunately, the history of U.S. investment in green energy, and particularly green jobs, has not been that great.”
He explained that, “By contrast, when the market has decided that these technologies – for example batteries – are worthy of capital, you actually see the potential for significant growth. So I don’t really think there’s much credibility to try to regulate and spend our way to jobs. Although there are, I think, some opportunities in the market for green energy projects in the future.”
What’s a major change in Biden’s plan that isn’t getting attention, but that you think should be?
“One of the most exciting changes is the creation of a new conservation corps that will put people to work coming out of this pandemic, working on conservation projects,” Weiss said. “It’s very much a renewal of the New Deal Civilian Conservation Corps, but for the 21st century, and I’m really excited to see how that comes together.”
Lincicome also pointed to the conservation corps, but expressed doubt about its implications.
“I think that the conservation corps is a great example of what I’m talking about, in that we’re kind of creating ‘jobs’ out of thin air,” he said. “I do question the value and the merit there, as to whether we can really – going back again to the New Deal – are these going to be jobs of just people digging holes and filling them back in or are they actually going to produce economic value? By economic value I mean, to have a longstanding economic stability when we have the next administration in place. Or are these just kind of a political mirage?”
Four years from now, this will probably be an election issue. How do you think we’ll look back on this effort?
Weiss believes the nation will look back on the plan as a “turning point.”
“As the time that America dedicated itself to addressing climate change, taking it seriously and converting our economy to a renewable energy economy,” he said.
Lincicome said he doesn’t see any of the measures as being substantial.
“People forget that President Obama was pretty tough on oil and gas during his second term, and yet the fracking industry boomed during a lot of that period,” he said. “So again, I stress, these things may be working a bit on the margins but I don’t think they’ll have as much as an impact in terms of the broader trajectory of things.”