Holding President Biden Accountable After One Year in Office

by Seth Laxman

January 27, 2022

We are tracking President Biden’s progress on his promises to see whether he is doing what is necessary to avoid climate catastrophe during his first year in office.

For President Biden to be considered a true climate leader, he must deliver a livable future for our communities. Real climate leadership means enabling a clean, thriving economy for all by saying yes to the Green New Deal, transitioning off of the dirty and destructive fossil fuels of the past, and putting justice and equity for working people and vulnerable communities first in the transition to a clean and prosperous future.

Greenpeace USA has tracked the progress of President Biden’s first year in office to grade his commitment to tackling the climate crisis. Our criteria outlines what the climate movement expects from our President and scores are based on two main categories:

  1. Challenge the fossil industry by enacting policies to halt oil, gas, and coal expansion; phase out existing fossil fuel infrastructure; and center fossil fuel workers and climate-impacted communities in the transition to a renewable energy economy.
  2. Champion a Green New Deal by mobilizing our economy toward 100% renewable energy for all, creating millions of family-sustaining jobs, and securing a better future for communities that have borne the brunt of fossil fuel industry exploitation.

As a candidate, Biden scored 75.5 out of 100 points based on his climate promises. At the administration’s 100 day mark, President Biden had earned 30 out of 100 points. Now, one year into his presidency his score has only increased to 36 out of 100. We have maintained the same criteria because the planet does not care what politicians deem politically feasible, nor does it pander to greedy fossil fuel executives. Biden’s campaign promises already fell short of what we need to avoid the most destructive effects of the climate crisis. During his first year in office, his slow progress towards those promises has put us even farther off pace in our sprint to secure a livable future.

Greenpeace US activists deploy a banner with a new art collaboration by graphic artist Shepard Fairey and Greenpeace USA pushing President Joe Biden to end the era of fossil fuel racism and deliver on the promise of a Green New Deal.

President Biden has so far failed to deliver on his promises to the American people, especially to the activists and organizers that showed up in the 2020 election. Polling from Yale Climate Change Communication consistently shows that a supermajority of adult Americans, 70 percent, are at least somewhat concerned about climate change, and those who describe themselves as “very worried” has grown in the past five years from 22 to 35 percent.

Despite this overwhelming public support, that has been emphatically communicated to the Biden administration by frontline grassroots activists, he has gone backward on his climate promises in some instances. For example, in November 2021, the Biden administration allowed the largest sale of public waters for offshore oil drilling in U.S. history. President Biden initially called for a pause on all fossil fuel lease sales in his climate-focused Executive Order, but the courts overturned that pause. Rather than pursuing other avenues to delay or quash the lease sales, the administration rolled over at the first sign of adversity. President Biden continually failed to push back on the fossil fuel industry and its cronies, even when it was entirely legal and possible for him to take ambitious and impactful climate action.

Fossil fueled Republicans and politicians like Senator Joe Manchin— D-WV, whose family owns a coal-trading company, and who has received more than $400,000 in campaign donations from the fossil-fuel industry just in recent months — cannot be allowed to dictate climate action, especially when what is proposed already constitutes the bare minimum action needed. The burden of the blame falls not just on President Biden or Sen. Manchin, but also on every single Republican who refused to support measures that would improve the lives of their constituents and instead chose to continue to cater to the desires of the corporations who line their pockets.

President Joe Biden addresses a rally in Arlington, Virginia.

The United States is the second-largest emitter of carbon pollution annually and one of the biggest producers of fossil fuels, therefore our success is necessary for the world to address climate. Passing the currently-stalled Build Back Better Act is perhaps a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the United States “to make a difference before the world warms to a calamitous level.” Even if the Build Back Better Act is passed without being watered-down further, there is still much more to do: states, cities, and corporations must contribute to phasing out fossil fuels and advancing Green New Deal policies. If President Biden can’t secure the passage of the Build Back Better Act, he will have missed his best opportunity in Congress to leverage the federal government’s power to cut carbon emissions and end the fossil fuel industry’s exploitation of our communities and planet.

Going forward, President Biden must make full use of his regulatory authority to close the gap between what current policies can achieve and what the planet needs in order to avoid climate catastrophe. There are a number of executive actions he can take in 2022 to maximize climate progress:

  • Declare a national climate emergency which unlocks authority to stop oil exports and redirect Department of Defense resources to build out clean and distributed renewable energy;
  • Reinstate the crude oil export ban. Continuing to export fossil fuels at record levels undercuts domestic emissions reductions and further weakens our position as a global climate leader. Reinstating the ban could lead to reductions in global carbon emissions by as much as 73 to 165 million metric tons of CO2-equivalent each year—comparable to closing 19 to 42 coal plants;
  • Halt federal fossil fuel leasing and ban new fossil fuel infrastructure projects, including petrochemical facilities, no new lease sales on federal lands and waters, reforms to bonding and idle wells to close low-producing wells, funds to protect workers and promote job creation on plugging wells;
  • Issue a timeline for the elimination of domestic and international fossil fuel subsidies;
  • Identify and eliminate pollution “hotspots” by directing EPA to set stringent industrial facility and regional pollution standards for all infrastructure and set new local and regional pollution standards that measure cumulative impacts from all types of fossil fuel activity.

Take Action

First, see how President Biden has measured up on climate action, take a look at the President’s Climate Scorecard.
view his scores

Then, help us hold the president accountable by signing this petition. Tell Biden to declare a Climate Emergency and bring an end to the era of fossil fuels and climate destruction.
add your name

Seth Laxman

By Seth Laxman

Seth Antonio Laxman (he/him) is a climate campaigner with Greenpeace USA. He is an environmental and transgender rights activist from Nyack, New York. An expert in sustainability and environmental justice, he is passionate about making the world a better and more beautiful place through action and art.

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