Jan 13, 2022 - Energy & Environment

Biden's climate runway is shortening

Share of U.S. electricity generation, by source
Data: U.S. Energy Information Administration; Chart: Jacque Schrag/Axios

The Biden administration is expanding efforts to speed clean electricity expansion with its existing powers, but faces big obstacles to meeting its climate goals without far more help from Congress.

Why it matters: President Biden has set a goal of reaching 100% carbon-free power by 2035 and cutting economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions — that is, power, transport, industry, etc. — in half by 2030.

  • The chart above shows why the power side of the target is a heavy lift, even as wind and solar are expanding very fast, and coal plant retirements are continuing.
  • The story is similar in other big emitting sectors. Electric vehicle sales are surging, but that's from a small base as gasoline-powered vehicles remain dominant.

Driving the news: Wednesday officials made a bunch of announcements on electricity.

  • They include final plans for what the administration calls the largest-ever auction for offshore wind leases off the New York and New Jersey coasts.
  • The sale next month could ultimately lead to up to 7 gigawatts of offshore wind development, enough to power 2 million homes, the Interior Department said.

Zoom in: Per a White House summary, various other new plans include...

  • A new multi-agency initiative to speed review of clean energy project proposals on public lands. It involves departments of the Interior, Energy, Agriculture and Defense, as well as the EPA.
  • Launch of an Energy Department program called "Building a Better Grid" aimed at financing transmission, and coordinating development among federal, state and local governments — a historically slow and difficult process.

The big picture: The new bipartisan infrastructure law has a suite of major clean energy initiatives, including transmission provisions that support the announcements.

  • But the clock is ticking — 2030 isn't that far away — and the administration's targets are unlikely to be met absent the stalled, and larger, Build Back Better bill.
  • It has over $500 billion in clean energy and climate measures, including expanded incentives for clean power developers and electric vehicle buyers.

By the numbers: U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions bounced back by an estimated 6.2% last year from the pandemic-fueled decline of 2020, per the Energy Information Administration.

  • The EIA's latest analysis Tuesday projects these emissions will rise by another 1.8% this year and 0.5% in 2023.
  • They'll still be below pre-pandemic levels, per EIA. But U.S. emissions are nowhere close to a trajectory consistent with White House targets.

Go deeper: The Biden agenda is meeting a dead end

Go deeper