Promises Made, Promises Broken

“I want you to look at my eyes, I guarantee you.  I guarantee you.  We’re going to end fossil fuel.”  candidate Joe Biden responding to New Hampshire environmental activist.

“Number one, no more subsidies for fossil fuel industry.  No more drilling on federal lands.  No more drilling, including offshore.  No ability for the oil industry to continue to drill, period, ends, number one.”   candidate Joe Biden, March 2020

Politicians make promises.  They may be sincere, and hope to fulfill them, but they know that once elected things change. 

Joe Biden is no different.  He’s fully aware that effective governing requires compromises.  And ultimately an agreement demands concessions.  Campaign promises thus vanish quickly. 

Presidents that abandon promises invite strong criticism.  They will bear the label flip-flopper, con man, and political opportunist.  What’s more, deals often fall far short of expectations.  No one is satisfied.       

But political compromises are crucial to a functioning democracy.  And a president’s ability to broker agreements make other agreements possible.     

Yes, Joe Biden promised the moon in 2020 and once elected quickly discarded those promises.  Now many Democrats are understandably disappointed

But that’s what successful politics looks like.

For Biden voters, especially strong climate change supporters, best to get over it.  

End fossil fuels

In 2020, candidate Joe Biden promised voters the end of fossil fuels.  And on his first day in office, Biden killed the proposed Keystone LX oil pipeline, which runs from Alberta down into the United States for nearly 1400 miles through Illinois, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.   

Biden also put the nation back into the Paris climate accord and set several tough emissions standards. 

Later, Biden signed the nation’s most significant climate law – the Inflation Reduction Act with $470 billion of climate and clean energy incentives designed to move the nation’s power supply, vehicles, and other carbon producers away from fossil fuels.  This followed the bipartisan infrastructure law, which included valuable provisions for funding various climate projects.   

An impressive – and arguably historic –list of climate friendly accomplishments. 

Political pragmatism

In 2020, candidate Joe Biden also promised voters to return things back to the way they were before Trump, before institutional gridlock and backbreaking partisan division overwhelmed beltway civility and stalled important legislation.   

Joe Biden would be the deal-maker, the moderate president that accomplished big things for the American people.   

Yet to accomplish big things, Biden realized he must put his arm around the fossil fuel industry.   

Big oil, not dead yet

Under Biden, the U.S. remained the world’s foremost oil consumer and the world’s undisputed top oil producer.  In addition, Biden approved a massive oil project in Alaska, which allows ConocoPhillips to develop three drilling sites on federal lands. 

That’s right, Biden endorsed drilling on federal land!    

And only weeks after authorizing the controversial Alaska project, Biden auctioned off 73 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico to offshore oil and gas drilling.  This was the price for Senator Joe Manchin’s vote on the Inflation Reduction Act – which was critical to the bill’s success.  According to the administration’s own analyses, the estimated oil and gas drilling from the sale will emit approximately 22 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.                 

Environmental groups have already filed lawsuits to try and stop the sale.      

The Biden administration also boosted natural gas production – eagerly filling the gap that sanctions on Russia’s natural gas and oil shipments produced. 

Finally, Biden has approved new oil and gas wells at a much faster pace than the Trump administration.  Federal regulators approved 74% more permits during Biden’s first year than during the same period of the Trump era. 

This is an impressive list of accomplishments supporting fossil-fuel interests. 

No one is satisfied

Successful negotiations incentivize both sides.  Neither gets entirely what it wants.  And when one side claims victory, it’s not long before the other does as well.  The victories are often connected, part of the grand bargain.  It’s your turn today, and mine tomorrow.     

It’s a distributive strategy, and the main reason why Biden has been able to reach several key climate objectives.     

For the progressive left, however, who believe the earth is quickly approaching a point of no return, ping-ponging between environmental and fossil fuel interests is unacceptable.  There must be swift and decisive implementation of zero-admission policies.    

On the other hand, the moderate Democrats and Independents, including Alaskan Democrats, are unwilling to dispatch entire industries displacing millions of workers.  Their constituents benefit from new fossil fuel projects.      

This is what change looks like.  Promises broken, endless horse-trading, and neither side seemingly satisfied – at least publicly.   

But take a moment to consider the trajectory of the past 3 years.  There is a clear winner.      

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