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Washington Watch: Biden’s Earth Day: Seattle stop will cap week of pushing Build Back Better and nature’s lift for the economy

High gas prices, federal drilling leases and congressional congestion, alongside promoting green jobs and EVs, are likely to shape Biden's Earth Day stops. Read More...

President Biden will travel to the Pacific Northwest this week to push his climate-change agenda against the backdrop of high inflation, particularly for gasoline, with his trip culminating in a Seattle visit on Earth Day this Friday.

Biden, in his first stop in the region as president, will address his achievements, including firming up tougher auto tailpipe emissions rules and efforts to create more high-paying, mostly union jobs as the U.S. transitions to cleaner energy ICLN, -0.82%. Achieving that will require returning more of the manufacturing of chips and other components that are now mostly imported from China and elsewhere back to U.S. makers, including in the solar space, where installers push for such imports to meet current demand. Overall, Biden can enjoy a robust snapback for jobs early in his watch.

But Biden will face questions on the contradiction of short-term decisions to boost domestic fossil-fuel industries CL00, +0.85%, the largest pollution-emitting sector of the economy, as a means to counter the run-up in prices after Russia’s Putin invaded Ukraine. Biden has said the U.S. can halve its emissions by 2030, on the way to net-zero emissions by 2050, but he must make almost all of his green pledges come to realization. The 2030 and 2050 targets are largely in line with those set by the world’s other wealthy nations.

Read: ‘Enormous buying power of federal government’: Biden aims for carbon-neutral U.S. by 2050 with new executive order

Asked if the U.S. can meet its 2030 target of cutting emissions in half, the official said, “We have headwinds. We have challenges. We have a crisis on our hands with climate. It’s 2022; I feel good about our odds.”

And, while Biden will extoll the benefits for the greening of the economy within last year’s bipartisan infrastructure law, he’ll have to defend why a would-be crowning achievement of his presidency — the climate-heavy Build Back Better bill — can’t clear Congress. It contains electric-vehicle incentives TSLA, +1.65% F, +0.90% and more tax help for households adding solar and other energy efficiencies. Last week, reports emerged that Biden’s domestic economic lead, Gina McCarthy, was frustrated by the slow movement and would leave the post; she denied those reports.

“The press and the pundits may like to declare President Biden’s climate agenda dead, but this week we will show how it is very much alive and well,” an administration official said in previewing the week’s appearances.

‘We have headwinds. We have challenges. We have a crisis on our hands with climate. It’s 2022; I feel good about our odds.’

— Biden administration official

Biden at one time said some of the more popular climate provisions might be stripped from the big spending bill to face their own test in Congress. That has not happened to date.

On Monday, an administration official said the team is participating in the crafting of a bill “reconciliation package that will cut some of the biggest costs that families face” when it comes to energy.

The official said the administration can claim some part in the record-setting number of new solar and wind projects last year, enough to power 10 million homes. The president, the official said, has been able to chart a course with the auto industry GM, +1.00% to make sure one of every two cars sold in 2030 emits zero emissions.

While many efforts are largely taking shape in the private sector, an administration official said “it’s the bully pulpit” of a climate-minded president that empowers these sectors to invest, knowing that regulatory and spending conditions could align in their favor.

“The 2 millionth electric vehicle hit the road last year; companies announced over $100 billion in American manufacturing and the rate of public EV charger installation increased by 83%. Plus, we saw the first ever commercial scale offshore wind project in federal waters, the first commercial flight powered by 100% sustainable aviation fuel and the first commitments from U.S. steel SLX, +0.56% and cement companies to reach net zero,” the official said.

Biden and the U.S. will be under close watch, as will other big polluters, including China and India, as the U.N.’s climate arm, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has issued recent red-flag updates on progress toward slowing global warming. Officials said the White House climate team would be briefed on the latest IPCC report this week.

The president’s Seattle stop will showcase ‘how we are using Mother Nature to help tackle climate change and support the economy.’

— Biden administration official

Also on the agenda: A Thursday announcement from the Transportation Department on how the bipartisan infrastructure law will help states reduce emissions across the transportation sectors and on Friday, the president’s Seattle stop will showcase “how we are using Mother Nature to help tackle climate change and support the economy,” the White House said.

The administration has had to defend recent moves to keep U.S. oil and gas flowing, including opening the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and temporarily easing EPA rules on ethanol.

And last Friday, the Biden administration announced that lease sales for oil and gas drilling on federal land can resume, an expected move after a Louisiana federal court injunction. But, the administration said, after the ruling, it would sharply reduce the acreage available for leases and charge higher royalties on the oil and gas produced.

The official, during the Monday briefing, said it’s important to separate the action forced by the court from the leeway it still brought the Biden Interior Department in both limiting future drilling and pushing the already-granted leases into action to help ease the oil-price jump for consumers right now.

But that isn’t the only court potentially in Biden’s way.

His plans to use executive authority to enact tougher new rules on greenhouse pollution from power plants and autos could be sharply limited by an upcoming decision from the conservative-leaning Supreme Court.

The officials insisted Monday that the power sector is more on side than reports might imply.

“We’ve got a utility sector that is… pushing in unison for robust [greenhouse gas] action, as well as for a suite of tax credits that are going to save American consumers money and bring private capital off the sidelines,” the official said.

“We see multiple pathways in each sector to achieve 2030 and we’re going to do it,” the official said. “We need to move at a pace that is 2X, 3X in terms of expanding clean electricity on our grid.”

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