President Joe Biden would need to implement a massive tax on emissions and conduct a near elimination of natural gas to meet his climate goals, according to left-leaning environmental experts.
Biden will join world leaders at the United Nations' climate change conference in November to discuss his administration's pledge to reduce U.S. carbon emissions by 50 to 52 percent by 2030. While a White House fact sheet claims the goal will "cut … energy costs for families," environmental experts contend Biden must enact policies that would raise taxes on everyday Americans to reach his emissions milestone.
According to Resources for the Future fellow Marc Hafstead, for example, Biden will fall short of his climate objective if he does not implement a tax hike on carbon emissions. The left-leaning World Resources Institute agrees—mitigation efforts without an emissions tax "carry significant uncertainties and fall short" of Biden's goal, its top experts wrote in September. The University of Maryland's Leon Clarke argues Biden would need a "near-complete phase-out" of natural gas-fired utilities and appliances.
The radical steps necessary to achieve his emissions goals—nearly half of U.S. homes use natural gas for heating—reflect the daunting political road ahead for Biden. The Democrat centered his campaign around fighting climate change but often ditched specifics for political platitudes on the campaign trail. Some environmental activists are already dismayed with Biden over what they see as an emphasis on "talking points" rather than tangible action. Should Biden lean into the "whole-of-government approach to the climate crisis" that he has promised, however, the subsequent policies could be "politically infeasible," according to Hafstead.
The White House did not return a request for comment.
Democrats have already included some of the experts' policy proposals in Biden's $3.5 trillion spending plan. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) in August touted the bill's Clean Electricity Payment Program, which aims to ensure that 80 percent of U.S. electricity comes from zero-carbon sources by 2030. In order to do so, the $200 billion program would penalize electricity companies that don't increase their carbon-free offerings—a provision that concerns many utility providers.
"There is a degree of nervousness on the question of whether we can still keep electricity affordable and reliable and have to make such a very big transition in a very, very short period of time," American Public Power Association vice president Desmarie Waterhouse told the Financial Times. The group represents roughly 1,400 municipal utility companies.
While Biden opposed the inclusion of an emissions tax in the bipartisan infrastructure package—the White House said such a policy would break his campaign pledge not to raise "taxes on people making less than $400,000 a year"—prominent Democrats are working to add the provision to Biden's spending package.
According to the New York Times, Schumer asked Sen. Ron Wyden (D., Ore.) to draft legislation that would tax emissions, an issue Wyden said "a lot of members" care "very deeply" about. A leaked Democratic Senate Finance Committee presentation, meanwhile, lists a "per-ton tax on the carbon dioxide content of leading fossil fuels (e.g., coal, oil, natural gas)" as a "major option."
An emissions tax of $30 per ton of carbon, which Hafstead has proposed, would mark a 60 percent increase in the federal gasoline tax. While Democrats are reportedly considering exempting gasoline from the levy, their Senate Finance Committee presentation does not mention such an exemption. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) released a roughly 2,500-page version of Biden's spending bill Friday, but Democrats have yet to agree on the legislation's revenue mechanisms.
As congressional Democrats sparred over how far the spending bill's environmental provisions should go, Biden used Hurricane Ida to portray climate change as a "code red" emergency, telling victims in New York "the nation and the world are in peril." But for Biden's activist base, the doomsday rhetoric must be met with action.
"If President Biden believes this is an actual ‘code red' situation, he should treat it as such by declaring a climate emergency immediately through an executive order and stopping all fossil fuel projects," Bold Alliance founder Jane Kleeb said.
Critics say Biden should be wary of catering to the demands of environmentalists. Power the Future founder Daniel Turner said the economic fallout from the elimination of natural gas and other climate change measures could prove disastrous for voters who are already reeling from inflation on everyday goods.
"Joe Biden continues to speak in generalities, and until he explains how this green revolution will impact us in terms of cost, land use, and materials, this is all just campaign fluff," Turner said. "Making energy expensive makes life expensive. Too much is on the line to play word games to appease green groups."