Other View: Biden administration must move more quickly to undo Trump's climate mischief
As life returned somewhat to normal last year after the pandemic shutdowns of 2020, America’s briefly reduced greenhouse gas emissions have started climbing toward normal as well, according to a new report. The data is unsurprising, given 2020’s unprecedented drop in emissions due to the pandemic. But it’s a reminder that the Biden administration’s goal of halving 2005 emission levels by 2030 looks increasingly elusive.
One factor that would help is for the administration to more quickly reverse the environmental mischief the Trump administration committed — but as The Washington Post recently reported, that effort is mired in bureaucracy. President Joe Biden, having correctly identified climate change as a looming emergency, must start treating it that way.
A recent analysis by the Rhodium Group concluded that the historic 10% plunge in emissions that the nation saw in 2020 due to shuttered factories, grounded planes and parked cars was followed last year by a 6% increase as people began resuming routines that require fossil fuel. Those emissions levels are expected to continue edging up this year to pre-pandemic levels.
The findings seem to dash any hope that America might ultimately emerge as a more emissions-conscious nation, if only because of the dramatic yearlong demonstration of how much of a difference human behavior makes in the quest to reduce emissions that cause climate change. No such transformation appears to have happened. That makes it more important than ever that Biden use the other tools he has available — including environmental regulations requiring more efficient electrical products like lightbulbs and major appliances.
In the case of lightbulbs, federal rules had originally called for old-fashioned incandescent bulbs to be phased out of the market by the end of 2020 and be replaced with more efficient and affordable versions that would significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions. But the Trump administration didn’t follow through on that change in part because, as then-President Donald Trump memorably complained, he believed the more efficient bulbs made him “look orange.” His administration similarly dragged its feet or outright reversed other regulations that would have required higher efficiency standards for appliances like clothes dryers and dishwashers.
These backwards steps weren’t primarily demands from industry but rather were driven by Trump himself, as part of his obsessive need to undo the Obama administration’s legacy wherever he could, and to pander to a Republican base that doesn’t take climate change seriously and liked seeing that attitude reflected in policy.
Biden’s urgent rhetoric on climate change hasn’t been matched by urgency in his Energy Department, which has turned back some of Trump’s environmental vandalism but has so far failed to finish the job of getting the lightbulb standards and other regulations back on track. These are standards that can have a meaningful impact on climate change and don’t need congressional approval. What is the administration waiting for?
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