Biden's Energy Schizphrenia Deepens

The Biden Administration’s poor public approval ratings ultimately derives from the fact that Biden and his team cannot escape the dilemma that sound policy and politics is at odds with the “Progressive” fundamentalism that controls the Democratic Party today. At nearly every turn, however, Progressive dogma wins out.

Two recent decisions make this problem evident. First is the decision to appeal U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle’s ruling striking down the federal mask mandate. By all accounts the Biden White House debated about whether to appeal the ruling, sending mixed signals that they might let the ruling stand. At length the administration decided to appeal the ruling, though it did so behind the skirts of the Centers for Disease Control, pretending that they have an obligation to uphold the legal prerogatives of the CDC.

The face of the CDC: Rochelle Walensky

The only surprise is that the White House debated at all, and it is significant that the Justice Department isn’t taking the typical step of requesting a stay of Judge Mizelle’s ruling pending an appeals court hearing, which would cause the mask mandate to snap back into place immediately. The White House surely took in the spontaneous scenes of celebration on airplanes and elsewhere at the liberation from masks, which have become the MAGA hat for Progressives. Democratic campaign strategists have been warning for months that the lockdown-uber-alles policy of the Branch-Covidians is increasingly unpopular with core Democratic constituencies, especially suburban moms.

So why did the White House not take the convenient offramp that Judge Mizelle provided? Answer: the imperatives of the Administrative State took precedence. It is crucial that the legal authority to impose mandates and other controls through the CDC be preserved, even if the White House decides that we can let the mask mandate lapse.

It could turn out worse. Cynical operatives in the White House might welcome an appeals ruling that upholds Judge Mizelle because it will allow Democrats to demand from Congress what I have been expecting from the beginning of Covid—the establishment of a new cabinet-level agency, a Department of Pandemic Planning and Prevention, with broad new regulatory powers beyond the CDC’s wildest imagination. The model here is the Department of Homeland Security, the bureaucratic mistake the Bush Administration foolishly embraced in 2002. In other words, the White House decision to appeal the ruling might not be as politically dumb as it seems.

The second significant White House decision was rolling back President Trump’s long-overdue reforms of the review process of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). This is the statute that anchors the environmental review and litigation process that the Left has used for decades to slow or block development of all kinds. NEPA and similar state-level laws are a major reason infrastructure projects of all kinds in the U.S. are way more expensive to build—if they are built at all—than in any other major industrialized nation.

The surprise is that it took the Biden White House 15 months to rescind Trump’s changes. You’d have thought Biden would have done this on January 20 of last year, with the same pen he used to kill the Keystone XL pipeline. One reason for the hesitation is that smarter environmentalists (I know, that’s an oxymoron in most cases) have come to understand that while the longstanding environmental review process has been an essential tool to block domestic energy development and infrastructure, it has become an impediment to many of the infrastructure needs of their “green” energy dreams. In many cases local environmental NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) activists have abused the NEPA process to block new wind and solar power projects, as well as the transmission lines necessary to make these green projects feasible at all.

Biden to America: Drop Dead.

Ezra Klein noted this problem in the New York Times last month: “They are, too often, powerful allies of an intolerable status quo, rendering government plodding and ineffectual and making it almost impossible to build green infrastructure at the speed we need. . . Too many of the tactics and strategies and statutes are designed to stop transformational or even incremental projects from happening.” Even Jerry Brown came to recognize this problem in California, calling on the state legislature in his last term in office to reform California’s version of NEPA known as CEQA. Naturally the state legislature, which was considerably to the left of Jerry Brown if you can imagine, declined to do so.

 The Biden White House did deliver one surprise, however. Its new budget proposal earmarks $6 billion to keep open several nuclear power plants currently scheduled to shut down soon. Someone seems awake enough to understand that if you seriously want to decarbonize our energy supply, you need to keep nuclear power prominently in the mix.  Better than a fresh round of subsidies, however, it would be better to remove existing mandates and subsidies for wind and solar power that make nuclear power unprofitable in the marketplace.

This move will not sit well with environmental fundamentalists who refuse to accept nuclear power, no matter how panicked they are about climate change. There are rumors that Gina McCarthy, head of the EPA under Obama and now Biden’s principal “climate adviser,” may resign from her post out of unhappiness at Biden’s purported backsliding on climate, even though Biden’s announcements of support for more domestic oil and natural gas production are mostly hollow rhetoric. Biden’s incoherence on energy simply cannot be masked.

Joe Biden's Climate Nirvana -- and Ours

Since Washington was locked down on inauguration day, President Joe Biden was free to spend his first day in office signing stacks of Executive Orders rather than attending the more traditional inaugural parades and balls. The object of these orders was, of course, to undo as much as possible everything the outgoing president, Donald Trump, had accomplished over the past four years.

Executive actions on climate and energy unsurprisingly dominated the first day’s to-do list. Since getting the U.S. out of the Paris climate treaty was Trump’s most consequential deregulatory action, it was fitting that Biden’s first signature was on a letter notifying the U.N. that America would be rejoining it.

Next, he signed a lengthy executive order that, among much else, canceled the permit for the mostly-completed Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport oil from Alberta’s oil sands to Gulf Coast refineries. Canceling Keystone immediately threw up to 11,000 well-paid construction workers out of their jobs. The trades union leaders who had endorsed Biden expressed their outrage, but the fact is that most of their members voted for Trump.

You got what you voted for, America.

Biden also ordered all government departments “to immediately commence work to confront the climate crisis,” and directed that all deregulatory actions on fossil fuel energy use and production taken by the Trump administration be reviewed with an eye to suspending and rescinding them.

The order re-instated the application of the “social cost of carbon” (an entirely speculative and largely fanciful cost estimate of the impact of adding one ton of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere) in regulatory decision-making and abolished Trump reforms aimed at speeding up the environmental permitting processes that are routinely used to delay politically incorrect energy and natural resources projects to death. For example, major hardrock mining projects that take two to four years to permit in Canada or Australia routinely take over ten years in the U.S.

On January 27 the White House held a "Climate Day," which included a major speech by the new president. It began, "Today is 'Climate Day' at the White House and—which means that today is 'Jobs Day' at the White House." The speech focused on two selling points aimed at two uneasy partners in the Democratic Party coalition—trades unions and the Woke left.

It turns out that addressing the climate crisis requires creating “millions of good-paying union jobs” in building the new green infrastructure. One imagines that these jobs will be much better than those created by the free market because they will be guaranteed and subsidized by government.

At a press conference after Biden’s speech, John Kerry, special presidential envoy for climate, was asked about people losing their jobs in fossil fuel industries as a result of the administration’s agenda. Kerry’s reply was predictably tone deaf:

What President Biden wants to do is make sure those folks have better choices, that they have alternatives, that they can be the people to go to work to make the solar panels.

Implied, but unacknowledged, was the fact that they first have to lose their jobs in order to access these "better choices."

Hitting Kerry in a bad place.

For the woke left, Biden offered something called "environmental justice." While it’s not clear exactly what the term means, the intended audience is a broad one:

With this executive order, environmental justice will be at the center of all we do addressing the disproportionate health and environmental and economic impacts on communities of color—so-called “fenceline communities”—especially those communities — brown, black, Native American, poor whites.

Several specific decisions were also announced during Climate Day, including a moratorium on new oil and gas leasing on federal lands and offshore areas (which account for nearly one-quarter of U.S. oil production).

In addition to these announcements, there was much speculation in the media about other planned actions. Most notably, the New York Times reported that the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) was planning to take three to ten billion dollars out of their reserves meant for dealing with disasters such as  hurricanes and spend it on preparing for the impacts of "climate change." Possible projects include constructing sea walls to safeguard against rising sea levels (the current rate is between 7 and 14 inches per century).

But most importantly, Biden made it clear that the entire executive branch is going to be organized around addressing climate: "It’s a whole-of-government approach to put climate change at the center of our domestic, national security, and foreign policy." His executive order officially declares a "climate crisis." A climate office or program is being installed in every federal department and agency.

Or maybe it can.

All this activity requires a lot of new high-level staffing at the White House as well. In addition to Kerry, Gina McCarthy, former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under Obama and then president of a major environmental pressure group (the Natural Resources Defense Council, which had $173 million in income in 2018), has been named National Climate Advisor, with the same rank as the National Security Advisor.

McCarthy will be head of the White House Climate Policy Office and also oversee a National Climate Task Force. When Biden introduced McCarthy near the beginning of his Climate Day speech, he off-handedly let the cat out of the bag, saying “And Gina—you run everything, Gina."

The next step may be to declare a National Climate Emergency and invoke a wide range of special emergency authorities given to the president by Congress. This would allow the president to commandeer large parts of the economy not currently under government control.

It’s going to be a long, long way to climate nirvana, but we can next look forward to an undoubtedly scintillating international Climate Leaders’ Summit hosted by the United States. The White House has scheduled the summit for Earth Day, April 22, which appropriately would be the 151st birthday of Vladimir Lenin, the patron saint of national economic overhauls. No word, yet, on whether that's intentional.