This piece first appeared in Down to Earth, the Guardian’s climate crisis newsletter. Register Here to read more exclusive pieces like this and for a digest of the week’s biggest environment stories every Thursday
Below is a picture of me in 2017, crowded around a TV at the climate publication that I worked for. Looking resigned as the president Donald TrumpThe US announced that it was withdrawing from Paris’ climate agreement.
I couldn’t have imagined the wild ride I was in for. Trump agencies have ripped through more than 100 environmental protections related to climate change, water pollution, biodiversity, and air quality over the past four years. They did it with dramatic flair.
The interior secretary rode his horse to his first day. The head of the Environmental Protection Agency spent a lot on sound-proof telephone booths, private planes, and other luxuries.
By the end of Trump’s chaotic presidency, I was exhausted. The incoming Biden administration felt a welcome respite. Biden pledged to restore the Trump-era regulations and make climate change a top priority.
Although I was skeptical of his potential, I tried to believe in him. Now, a year into Biden’s presidency, it’s clear that what little optimism I had was misguided.
Biden’s climate legacy is starting to take shape, and it doesn’t look good.
His administration has:
1. The largest-ever offshore oil drilling lease auction in the Gulf of Mexico
Biden, November 80m2 of water were offeredfor oil drillers. The US government has leased parts of the Gulf of Mexico to offshore exploration and drilling for many years. However, environmentalists and public health advocates hoped the president who campaigned for climate change action would at minimum reduce this practice.
Last month, a judge the auction – ruling that the administration didn’t properly disclose and consider how the leases would contribute to the climate crisis. That court decision is one of the biggest climate victories of Biden’s administration. And it came in spite of the administration’s efforts – not because of them. More than 300 organizations have signed an emergency petition calling for an immediate halt to all new drilling in the Gulf.
2. Permitted More drilling on public landsIn the WestAnd in Alaska, than Trump did in his initial Year
According to the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), Biden has approved nearly 900 additional permits to drill on public lands in 2021 than Trump did last year. That’s despite his campaign pledges to end new oil and gas leasing on federal lands. Biden also addressed the nation in November We urge you toDrilling companies will produce more oil in an effort lower gasoline prices.
3. Failure to make climate legislation work Agenda
Biden, on the campaign trail, promised to cut US greenhouse gas emissions by half by 2030. This included investing heavily in renewable power. But his legislative package to do so – Build Back Better – has stalled. Two Democrats – Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema – may be the main culprits for this failure, but convincing them to get on board with his agenda was always going to be one of Biden’s biggest challenges, and he hasn’t managed to do it.
4. Inadvertently reinstated rules
Biden has made it clear that even minor regulations, such as those requiring more efficient furnaces, freezers and lightbulbs, are acceptable. Still stuck in regulatory limbo. And he could face a significant blow this month if the conservative-tilted supreme court decides the federal government can’t write rules to curb climate pollution from power plants.
Biden hasn’t followed through on the basics. And he certainly hasn’t brought the kind of sweeping and aggressive action the world’s scientists say is necessary to avoid catastrophic global heating.
As the US prepares for midterm elections in November it remains to be seen if Biden will push harder for environmental efforts.
This isn’t the first massive failure of climate efforts at the federal level, and it won’t be the last. The lesson: policymakers and industries won’t do the right thing unless they are forced, by our decisions with our ballots and our wallets.
Emily Holden is the editor-in-chief and founder of Floodlight Newsa non-profit newsroom that investigates corporations that are preventing climate action. Follow it on twitter Here.