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The clock is ticking on Biden's climate agenda

President Biden is under intense pressure to deliver on his historic climate plans, with real danger that he’ll miss his window on major goals that allies had hoped were in their grasp.

Why it matters: Only six months into his presidency, Biden has a limited amount of time to tackle what he calls "the No. 1 issue facing humanity."


  • Key parts of his platform are tethered to the infrastructure push underway right now. Biden and liberal Democrats want huge clean energy investments and tax incentives.
  • They hope a Democrats-only package would provide vastly more than energy measures in the infrastructure outline Biden unveiled with a bipartisan Senate group on Thursday.

Threat level: Republicans have a good chance of regaining one — and perhaps both — chambers of Congress in the 2022 midterms, effectively slamming Biden's window shut.

  • And already Democrats are having trouble locking down enough votes in their own ranks for anything resembling Biden's proposals around electric cars, renewables, efficient buildings and more.

The intrigue: The time pressure is even more intense than the electoral calendar suggests.

  • November brings the most important United Nations climate summit since the 2015 talks that birthed the Paris agreement.
  • Walking into that summit with an enacted package would help show that the White House pledge to slash U.S. emissions by 50% by 2030 is realistic.
  • But if the U.S. effort is foundering, winning higher ambition and tangible new steps from other nations could be a harder diplomatic lift.

The big picture: The U.S. is the world's second-largest greenhouse gas polluter behind runaway leader China.

  • Biden's campaign platform pledged a sweeping emissions-cutting agenda that would go far beyond that of former President Obama.
  • The goals include a carbon-free power sector by 2035; strong new regulations to limit tailpipe emissions; new restrictions on fossil fuel development; and massive new resources for clean energy R&D and deployment.
  • Big new investments and greatly expanded clean energy incentives would require approval from Congress. Another part of Biden's plan — a "clean energy standard" that forces utilities to vastly ramp up carbon-free power — also requires legislation.

Yes, but: The White House also hopes to accomplish a lot with executive actions by redirecting agencies, including the EPA and the Interior and Energy Departments, to be more climate-focused.

  • Just one of many examples: Biden is pushing the EPA and the Transportation Department to rewrite vehicle efficiency rules to be much tougher.
  • There's also a multi-agency push to accelerate the development of large offshore wind projects.
  • And U.S. development finance agencies — including the U.S. International Development Finance Corp. — are putting a higher priority on clean energy.

Executive actions face their own hurdles, however, including litigation that greets every major rulemaking.

  • This month, a federal judge issued an injunction against Biden's freeze on new oil lease sales — a move that foreshadows legal battles that will confront all his regulatory efforts.

The bottom line: "Every passing day tests [Biden's] ability to achieve an ambitious climate agenda in his first term, especially if the infrastructure bill doesn’t include the transformative investments and tax credits for clean energy," Margaret Jackson of the Atlantic Council's Global Energy Center tells Axios via email.

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