President Joe Biden honed a pragmatic new message on climate change in his first State of the Union speech Tuesday evening, recasting his sweeping proposal to spend more than any country ever has on clean energy as a way to simultaneously combat the rise in U.S. planet-heating emissions and inflation.
Biden promised that fighting climate change would translate into an average $500 per year in energy savings for American households. The figure came from an October analysis by the Rhodium Group, a widely respected consultancy.
As he’s done repeatedly throughout his first year in office, Biden emphasized that he views confronting climate change as an opportunity to create high-wage jobs in renewable energy and manufacturing, and set the United States up to compete directly with China.
He pledged to build out 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations and replace lead pipes as part of 4,000 infrastructure projects the president said were already underway. Next he promised to “start fixing over 65,000 miles of highway and 1,500 bridges in disrepair.”
“It is never a good bet to bet against the American people,” Biden said. “We’ll create good jobs for millions of Americans, modernizing roads, airports, ports, waterways all across America. And we’ll do it to withstand the devastating effects of climate change and promote environmental justice.”
Biden’s address comes one day after the United Nations released yet another sobering climate change report, which concludes that “the extent and magnitude of climate change impacts are larger” than previously known and that the window to “secure a livable and sustainable future” is rapidly closing.
“Let’s provide investments and tax credits to weatherize your home and your businesses to be energy efficient and get a tax credit,” Biden said. “Double America’s clean energy production in solar, wind and so much more. Lower the price of electric vehicles, saving you another $80 a month that you’re not going to have to pay at the pump.”
Inflation, he said, is “robbing” Americans.
“One way to fight inflation is to drive down wages and make Americans poorer. I think I have a better plan to fight inflation: Lower your costs, not your wages. That means make more cars and semiconductors in America. More infrastructure and innovation in America. More goods moving faster and cheaper in America. More jobs where you can earn a good living in America. Instead of relying on foreign supply chains — let’s make it in America.”
With Russia financing its war in Ukraine with oil wealth and in the wake of scientists’ latest grim climate warning, Biden finds himself under enormous pressure to take one of two very different paths: lean into fossil fuels or move as quickly as possible toward renewable energy.
Republicans argue now is the time to increase domestic production of the fossil fuels that are driving global warming. They have attempted to pin the blame for Russian President Vladmir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine on Biden, accusing him of financing Putin’s war by importing Russian oil, and are citing the ongoing conflict to justify more drilling at home.
Ahead of the president’s speech Tuesday, House Republican leadership held a press conference where they slammed Biden for waging what they called a “war on American energy independence.” At the event, House Republican Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) produced a printed list of immediate steps Biden should take to correct course, including ending a pause on new federal oil and gas leasing and permitting and fast-tracking natural gas export permits. The list is strikingly similar to one that the American Petroleum Institute, the oil and gas industry’s largest U.S. trade association, sent to the Whtie House on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, climate and environmental groups are accusing Biden of not moving fast enough to rein in greenhouse gas emissions and transition away from polluting energy sources. In a press call earlier this week, members of the Build Back Fossil Free coalition called on the president to declare a climate emergency and use his executive authority to halt new fossil fuel projects. And climate group Evergreen Action published a report detailing six actions they want Biden to take to combat climate change, including regulating pollution from the power sector, investing in clean energy manufacturing and phasing out fossil fuel extraction on federal lands and waters.