Jun 13, 2023 - Energy & Environment

Biden's climate policy makes the left sweat 2024

Illustration of an arm going in a downward trend line casting a ballot

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Joe Biden’s critics in the climate movement fret he could face enthusiasm problems with climate voters and young people for backing fossil fuel projects.

Why it matters: Lots of people who care about climate change want Joe Biden to boost renewables and curtail fossil fuel production, an approach many climate experts want.

  • The Biden camp and its defenders attest the president’s achievements, including the biggest climate law in U.S. history, make up a a sterling record compared to a GOP that is routinely targeting low-carbon investments.

Driving the news: Biden shepherded new laws benefiting low-carbon energy over the last year, including the Inflation Reduction Act, which is already driving public and private sector money into the renewables sector.

The intrigue: Leah Stokes, a political science professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara who helped Democrats craft their signature climate law, acknowledged to Axios that “multiple things can be true” — Biden’s the “best climate president” but it’s “still not enough.”

  • However, Stokes said, the “fact is that President Biden will by far be the better candidate on climate change in the 2024 election.”

Between the lines: Some climate advocates make the case that Biden should be more aggressive against the continued use of fossil fuels or he’ll dampen voter enthusiasm on the left.

  • Those calling for more action include the Sunrise Movement, a youth-centered climate organization that didn’t back Biden in the 2020 Democratic primary, but wound up influencing his unity platform with then-candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders.
  • Sunrise, which is present around many college campuses, claims credit for helping turn out younger voters for Biden.
  • The group’s electoral director Michelle Weindling believes the president’s energy policy is going to make “groups like Sunrise’s jobs really hard.”
  • “You definitely run a risk there of disillusioning young voters,” Weindling said.

Fresh polling from advocates also shows the potential for enthusiasm issues with younger voters who care about climate action.

  • A new poll from left-aligned firm Data for Progress found roughly 48% of likely voters aged 18-34 were somewhat or much less likely to vote for Biden because of his “approval of new oil and gas drilling projects on public lands, such as the Willow project in Alaska."
  • The survey of 1,236 likely voters, which was shared with Axios, was conducted over the weekend as wildfire smoke receded from swathes of the eastern U.S. and had a margin of error of +/- 3 points.

Of note: At least some polls indicate that Biden’s approval of some new oil projects, including Willow in Alaska, gets good marks from older voters and folks on the right.

  • If those polls play out in vote totals, these oil and gas decisions could be a good thing for Biden’s “compare me to the alternative” political approach.
  • There’s also the chance younger voters — crucial to the Democrats’ base — may dislike Biden on climate but turn out to vote for other reasons, like abortion or LGBTQ+ rights.

What they’re saying: White House spokesperson Abdullah Hasan told Axios that Biden “is delivering on the most ambitious climate agenda ever.”

  • Kevin Munoz, a spokesperson for the Biden re-election campaign, said in an email that “the extremist MAGA [R]epublicans running for president would set out country’s fight against the climate crisis back decades.”
  • “Bottom line: reelecting President Biden and Vice President Harris means cutting through the division in Washington to advance federal action to fight the climate crisis, create even more clean energy jobs and lead the world toward a more sustainable future.”

What we’re watching: On Wednesday, Biden will be the keynote speaker at the annual D.C. dinner of the League of Conservation Voters, a prominent environmental group with a large cash war chest.

  • We’ll see if the LCV — a mainstream environmental group that often spends big to help Democrats — voices support for Biden, or if the president himself bats back at the criticism from climate activists.

What to read next: Axios interviewed Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez about her own 2024 climate voter enthusiasm concerns. Subscribe to our Pro Energy Policy newsletter to read their convo.

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