Politics Biden’s Climate Czar on the Texas Electricity Mess, Green Energy
USA TODAY exclusive: Bill Gates discusses confronting climate change, says Joe Biden's energy and emissions goals are within reach
"He's doing the right things, but we still do not have a plan," Bill Gates said of President Joe Biden's executive orders on climate change.The Microsoft co-founder and global health philanthropist said the past four years have been a wasted opportunity to combat the threat of a warming planet and U.S. leadership on the issue waned under Donald Trump.
As the first White House National Climate Advisor, Gina McCarthy is carrying a lot of weight for Joe Biden’s administration. It’s her job to fulfil his very ambitious climate agenda, which includes a carbon-free grid by 2035 and a net-zero economy by 2050. This past week the president returned the U.S. to the Paris climate accord, which requires countries to set their own voluntary goals for reducing greenhouses gases. McCarthy, who led the Environmental Protection Agency under President Barack Obama, has pledged “the most aggressive” carbon cut the U.S. can make ahead of a climate summit Biden is hosting with world leaders to mark Earth Day on April 22.
What Matters: Two lifelines for America
Two different Americas are waiting on lifelines. © CNN Biden town hall For part of the country, it's a literal shot in the arm -- the vaccine. For the other it's a metaphorical shot -- the new stimulus package that will help keep them going while we're stuck in the Covid economy. Tuesday's CNN town hall was President Joe Biden's moment to move on from the impeachment trial that wrapped up over the weekend. Here are 6 of Biden's top priorities On vaccines: CNN reached out to all 50 states about what their health departments would like to see from the Biden administration.
As part of the Aspen Institute’s Aspen Ideas: RE$ET event, Bloomberg Green recently sat down with McCarthy to talk about pressing issues from the Texas freeze to the return to Paris. A truncated version of the conversation appears below. The full interview will air Tuesday at 12 p.m. Washington time. You can register for free.
BLOOMBERG GREEN: You recently convened your first White House Climate Task Force meeting. As part of that, you outlined some new priorities for EPA, including regulating methane gas and autos. What are a few more of the administration’s immediate priorities?
GINA MCCARTHY: You’ve identified the things that we've already let everybody know with clarity how we're going to move on. But it is also about moving away from the idea that my old agency, EPA, is the sole purveyor of the issue of climate change and how to fix it. It’s all about a whole-of-government approach so that everybody is looking at their programs and policies.
Texas, the go-it-alone state, is rattled by the failure to keep the lights on
Political leaders in Texas prize what they see as the state’s self-reliance, its go-it-alone ethos, and its cheap power – all of which they regard as related. As the country and the world stand on the verge of a revolution in distribution of electricity, driven by artificial intelligence and the coming surge of electric vehicles, Texas is proud of having its own energy grid, with only minor connections to the rest of the country. And they argue that the state’s aggressive deregulation of the grid — which some link to this week’s failures — has brought inexpensive electricity to the state’s residents and businesses.
One of the most important things is our ability to procure products and services in a way that's going to jumpstart a clean energy economy and send the kind of market-based signals where the private sector will say, “Aha, so we have lots of electric vehicles being purchased by the United States of America – thousands of them that they might buy every year.”
We are also just not manufacturing at the levels we need. We are ceding the economy of the future to China and other countries — which is why President Biden issued a Buy America policy as well.
BG: So let's talk about the cold snap last week. It showed the weakness of America's electric grid, but it also showed some of the politics you're up against as the fossil fuel industry put the blame on renewables, like wind turbines.
GM: What happened in Texas was not a failure of renewable energy — just the opposite. It was the fact that they had not invested in their own systems of refineries and they did not have a grid that connected Texas with other states in a way that other states are aligned together. So it made the response much more difficult.
Texas and California built different power grids, but neither stood up to climate change
The winter storm that crippled Texas this week and heat wave the hit California last summer show much more needs to be done to protect power supplies from extreme weather.The two sprawling, politically potent states have devoted massive sums to their power networks over the past two decades — California to produce huge amounts of wind and solar energy, Texas to create an efficient, go-it-alone electricity market built on gas, coal, nuclear and wind. But neither could keep the lights on in the face of the type of brutal weather that scientists call a taste of a changing climate.
So we all have to think differently about electricity. Everything eventually has to be electrified. And so we need to have a grid system that actually allows that to be seamless. Renewable energy is cheaper, so it doesn't matter if you're in a Democratic state or a Republican state, it's essential for a clean, healthy and productive future.
BG: What are the milestones that need to be accomplished in the next four years to move the ball toward a net-zero economy in 2050?
GM: A lot of it is about sending strong signals to our economy. Right now we are developing a Nationally Determined Contribution, which is our way of returning to the Paris Agreement and saying what we intend to achieve for greenhouse gas reductions by 2030. And we'll be able to underpin it. We will have actions for sectors like transportation and energy and a plan for how our investments and standards are going to push that forward. We'll have opportunities to work with states and cities to get their take on what should happen beyond the federal government. And we're going to stand together and make the United States a proud country again.
Leslie Kaufman writes the Climate Report newsletter about the impact of global warming.
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Rural Americans are the future of the clean energy economy — policymakers must to catch up .
It’s time to reconsider dated stereotypes regarding which communities are leading the environmental movement and start imagining what could be accomplished if our policymakers tap into the ingenuity of rural Americans surviving on the front lines of climate catastrophe. Chitra Kumar is Senior Fellow with Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group, and Thrive Rural