White House Moves to Plan B for Glasgow Climate Summit

WASHINGTON—The White House, its climate agenda mired in congressional wrangling, is hoping to show world leaders at the Glasgow climate summit that the U.S. can still meet President Biden’s pledge to dramatically reduce emissions despite recent legislative setbacks.

The Biden administration plan includes a series of executive actions it says will make significant progress toward meeting the president’s pledge to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 50% to 52% below 2005 levels by 2030. These include tougher methane rules for oil and gas production that are expected to be announced ahead of the summit, followed by more stringent emissions limits on vehicles later this year.

U.S. greenhouse emissions have already fallen roughly 20% from 2005 levels, according to analysts. But emissions are expected to tick up as the global economy reopens after the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

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The goal for White House officials is to convince world leaders that the U.S. is making concrete progress on further reductions. During a CNN town hall on Thursday night, Mr. Biden called climate change an “existential threat to humanity.”

But analysts and even White House allies agree the administration needs action from Congress to fund the deep changes to the economy required to meet Mr. Biden’s goals.

That effort has been complicated by opposition from Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.), an influential coal-state Democrat who is pushing to scale back climate-related measures. Mr. Biden and Democratic leaders in Congress have proposed spending hundreds of billions of dollars on measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as part of a plan that was originally pegged at $3.5 trillion but is now likely to be closer to $2 trillion.

Gina McCarthy, Mr. Biden’s national climate adviser, said the White House is still optimistic that Congress will include significant funding for programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, despite likely cuts—including a $150 billion program aimed at pushing utilities to shift to cleaner sources of fuel.

“The conversations between the president and Congress are beginning to really accelerate,” Ms. McCarthy said in an interview. But even if congressional action stalls, she said, “we will already have identified a number of ways in which we can underpin that [climate commitment] and show the rest of the world that we’re getting back in a leadership position.”

Mr. Biden’s aides are working on a new U.S. climate strategy that will outline options for meeting the target, but it may not be released publicly in time for the summit. U.S. officials believe there are multiple pathways for meeting the target, but expect to rely at least in part on the remaining climate measures in the scaled-back legislation, like renewable-energy tax credits.

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Earlier this year, the administration formed a task force of senior agency officials charged with coming up with dozens of actions across the federal government intended to address the effects of climate change. The product of their work, the national climate strategy, will be released by the end of the year.

The administration is also working on a longer-term climate strategy, according to officials, that will lay out a road map for getting to the net zero U.S. emissions by 2050 that Mr. Biden has proposed.

Beyond congressional action, Environmental Protection Agency regulations are at the core of the administration’s near-term effort to meet the target. Officials expect to propose new requirements for oil-and-gas companies to control their methane emissions before Mr. Biden leaves for Glasgow.

Higher efficiency standards for passenger cars and trucks and heavy-duty vehicles would play an even bigger role and could arrive in new proposals before year’s end.

White House officials have been calling businesses in recent days to seek support for their efforts amid the move in Congress to shrink the spending proposal.

Energy companies and manufacturers have been among those that have been in touch with the administration, the people said. The administration reached out to Carrier Global Corp. and Siemens AG, among others, according to one of the people.

Some companies have been hesitant to accept the cost of Mr. Biden’s congressional agenda. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has promised to “do everything we can to prevent this tax-raising, job killing” bill.

The Biden administration’s plan includes more stringent emissions limits on vehicles.

Photo: bing guan/Reuters

A group of 15 companies, including PepsiCo Inc. and Royal Dutch Shell PLC, sent a letter this week to congressional leaders saying they support the bill’s climate provisions but are concerned about how the bill raises money, requesting a discussion of “alternative options.”

The Biden administration has stepped up its push for measures to address climate change. It has released reports in recent days saying rising global temperatures and extreme weather pose a growing risk to U.S. national security and the economy. And Mr. Biden has pointed to increasingly urgent calls from scientists to make the case that the U.S. and the world must act quickly to avoid the worst outcomes.

The administration has also been touting its wide-ranging plans for the financial sector, for which it has already introduced a bevy of new proposals to require more disclosures and assessments of the risks from climate change.

Ms. McCarthy said the EPA recently adopted first-of-its-kind rules to reduce the use of hydrofluorocarbons, coolants that are potent greenhouse gases.

A reliance on executive action would mirror the strategy of former President Barack Obama. He imposed a series of new rules on climate change under pre-existing laws. But those regulations were hamstrung by legal challenges, and delayed or undone by his successor, then-President Donald Trump.

Ms. McCarthy said she thinks Mr. Biden’s agenda will be long lasting because the president and his team are trying to position low-carbon energy sources as a linchpin of the economy.

“If we can build our economy, and grow jobs—good union jobs—that’s what is going to last. You are not going to undo this if what we do to address climate is embedded in the very fabric of our economic health,” she said.

World leaders, some of whom have complained that the U.S. hasn’t followed through on international climate deals, have been closely watching the domestic machinations ahead of the Glasgow summit. They are looking for Mr. Biden to back up his promise of a long-term U.S. commitment to reducing its emissions and to help other countries do the same.

That has led Mr. Biden to appeal to Congress to make progress on the negotiations ahead of the Glasgow summit, arguing in a closed-door meeting with lawmakers this week that the event would be an opportunity to prove to skeptical world leaders that the U.S. democratic political system can deliver, according to people present for the meeting.

Analysts say action by Congress is likely needed to meet Mr. Biden’s climate goals.

Under current policy, U.S. emissions reductions would be about 17% to 25% below 2005 levels in 2030, well below Mr. Biden’s target, according to an analysis released this week by the Rhodium Group, an independent research firm.

The Rhodium Group report says Mr. Biden can meet its 2030 target for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions through a combination of measures, including adoption of the social-policy and climate legislation, plus a roughly $1 trillion infrastructure bill that is pending in the House that includes funding for trains, research on carbon-capture technology and hardening electricity transmission lines, among other measures.

Congress would need to provide tax credits and government grants as a way to fund utilities and heavy industry to make improvements likely to be mandated by regulation. But the president can meet the target without the program to push utilities to shift to cleaner sources of fuel that Mr. Manchin opposes, Rhodium said.

Democrats have broad support within their caucus for electric-vehicle tax credits, as well as tax credits for wind and solar energy. They are scrambling to make sure the $150 billion designated for the clean electricity performance program opposed by Mr. Manchin will be reallocated to a new program that achieves meaningful emissions reductions, a move that Mr. Biden endorsed during the CNN town hall on Thursday night. But they haven’t yet come to an agreement on what that alternative will be.

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Write to Andrew Restuccia at andrew.restuccia@wsj.com and Timothy Puko at tim.puko@wsj.com

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