Clean-energy groups praised the inauguration of US President Joe Biden as ushering in a “new era” of American leadership on climate and science-based energy policies to guide the country's transition away from fossil fuels.
Biden, sworn in as the nation’s 46th president at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, later signed 15 executive orders including two for the US to rejoin the 197-nation Paris Agreement to fight the global climate crisis and revoke a permit that would have enabled the construction of the contentious Keystone XL Canada-US crude oil trunkline.
Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump withdrew the US from the accord in 2017 saying it imposed draconian financial burdens on the American economy, was an economic defeat for its workers and gave too many advantages to other nations such as China.
Before Trump came to power, the US had pledged to cut its greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) by 26% to 28% from 2005 levels by 2025. The country has achieved about a 21% reduction so far, partly due to Covid-19 disruptions last year, not structural changes that would lead to permanent decline in carbon pollution, according to consultancy Rhodium Group.
Biden withdrew a special presidential permit for Keystone XL despite a pledge by owner TC Energy Corp. based in Calgary, Alberta, to spend $1.7bn on solar, wind and battery power to operate the partially completed pipeline system.
We commend President Biden’s commitment to move America beyond climate denial on his very first day in office.
The move is likely to cause friction between Biden and trade unions who were told by TC Energy that the project could employ thousands of their members in the US. Biden aggressively courted organised labour for votes during last year's election campaign with promises that his administration would invest billions of federal dollars in energy and other infrastructure to create multiple thousands of "well-paying union jobs."
Biden is also ordering executive agencies that are the administrative arms of the president and headed by members of his cabinet to review 103 actions on the environment and public health taken by Trump. Among the priorities reportedly include those that rolled back rules on vehicle emissions standards, natural gas flaring and methane leakage and eased restrictions on oil and gas operations on certain federal lands.
“We commend President Biden’s commitment to move America beyond climate denial on his very first day in office,” said Greg Wetstone, CEO of the American Council on Renewable Energy (Acore).
“The nation’s renewable sector looks forward to working with the new administration to accelerate the transition to a renewable energy economy and return the United States to a position of global leadership in the fight against climate change.”
Biden is proposing a massive $2trn federal climate plan and related actions in his first term that aim to set the US on course towards a green, sustainable economy and help it recover from the severe economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
He believes his “build back better” strategy will place the US on a trajectory to reach net-zero GHGs by 2050, which is consistent with the Paris Agreement.
“Economic recovery and combating climate change go hand in hand, and President Biden has made these critical issues some of his top priorities upon taking office,” said Heather Zichal, CEO of the newly formed American Clean Power Association (ACPA).
She added that that solar, wind and other industries her advocacy group represents “stand ready to invest in US communities and the US workforce” to achieve a more prosperous and lower-carbon future.
In his 20-minute inaugural speech, Biden made repeated references to the 400,000 Americans who have died from Covid-19, the most in any country, and the economic challenges caused by the pandemic.
Millions of workers have lost their jobs including more than 400,000 in clean energy and gross domestic product in 2020 may have declined 6%, the most for a calendar year since the Great Depression.
Biden believes that the emerging offshore wind sector offers a near-term opportunity to create thousands of jobs, generate gigawatts of clean energy to help replace some fossil power plants in Atlantic coastal states, and help modernize port and transmission infrastructure.
As part of his climate plan, Biden is targeting installation of “thousands of turbines” at sea over the next four years. His energy advisors estimate that the US could add 12GW of offshore power capacity for every 1,000 turbines installed. This assumes the industry will continue a trend toward adopting the 12MW turbine platform as its standard.
“This is the opportunity the offshore wind industry has waited for. President Biden’s unwavering commitment to develop renewable energies will usher in a new era for the offshore wind industry and for the US supply chain,” said Liz Burdock, CEO of the Business Network for Offshore Wind, a Baltimore-based non-profit dedicated to building a US supply chain for the industry.
Trump did not attend the inauguration, the first outgoing president to decline the opportunity since 1869 when President Andrew Johnson remained in the White House as Civil War general Ulysses Grant was sworn in as the 18th president.