President Joe Biden said during his State of the Union address Tuesday that the climate crisis is an “existential threat” and political leaders have an obligation to confront it.
Seconds later, the president briefly deviated from his prepared remarks to add, “We’re still going to need oil and gas for a while”—prompting applause from Republican lawmakers.
To climate advocates, Biden’s comments underscored the tension between the president’s exhortations to treat climate change like the emergency it is and his continued approval of fossil fuel drilling projects that will spew millions upon millions of tons of planet-warming carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year, making it more difficult to meet critical emission-reduction targets.
Biden noted accurately in his speech that the Inflation Reduction Act, which became law last year, is “the most significant investment” in the nation’s history to combat the climate crisis, which is fueling increasingly extreme weather events that displaced more than 3 million adults across the U.S. in 2022—and tens of millions more globally.
But environmentalists said there’s much more the president can do, unilaterally, to bring rising U.S. emissions into line with the administration’s pledges and phase out fossil fuel production that is driving habitat destruction, species extinction, sea level rise, and other catastrophic outcomes.
“There is no denying that President Biden has made important strides to invest in renewable energy through the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act,” said Jeff Ordower, 350.org’s North America director. “However, we are not truly living up to real climate solutions if Biden continues to rely on the fossil fuel industry and allow them to pump more oil and gas.”
“Biden casually suggested that the U.S. will ‘need oil for at least a decade or longer’—this is unacceptable,” Ordower added.
The State of the Union address came just a week after the Biden administration took a key step toward approving a massive ConocoPhillips drilling project on Alaska’s North Slope. Even under the scaled-back version that the Bureau of Land Management has suggested, the Willow Project would emit an estimated 9.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year.
Ordower noted that, if granted final approval by the Interior Department, Willow “would be the largest oil and gas development on federal land.”
“As long as the United States continues to green light fossil fuel projects like the ConocoPhillips Willow Project,” he argued, “the U.S. will not be able to bring down emissions or meet its targets. President Biden needs to stop approving fossil fuel infrastructure projects, end fossil fuel production on public lands and waters, and declare a climate emergency to truly protect frontline and BIPOC communities and live up to his promises.”
More than two years into his presidency, Biden has badly failed to meet his campaign pledge to end new oil and gas leasing on public lands and waters. According to one recent study, the Biden administration approved more fossil fuel drilling permits during its first two years than its openly industry-friendly predecessor.
Originally published at Commondreams.org.