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Biden climate plan draws praise from environmentalists, wariness from Pa.’s natural gas industry

The president’s goal of cutting greenhouse gas pollution in half by 2030 might have been short on specifics, but environmentalists were hailing it as Pennsylvania’s natural gas industry was guarded.

Workers move a section of well casing into place at a Chesapeake Energy natural gas well site near Burlington, Pa., in Bradford County in 2010.
Workers move a section of well casing into place at a Chesapeake Energy natural gas well site near Burlington, Pa., in Bradford County in 2010.Read moreRalph Wilson / AP File

President Joe Biden announced Thursday a goal of cutting greenhouse gas pollution in half by 2030, while creating millions of “good-paying, union jobs.” Environmentalists saw the plan as a positive step toward the United States resuming its global leadership role, while Pennsylvania’s natural gas industry held a more guarded view.

Biden outlined the broad plan to tackle climate change on Earth Day during a virtual summit of 40 world leaders, even drawing commitment from Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The president said the United States is committing to cutting its fossil fuel emissions up to 52% by 2030 from 2005 levels, portraying the effort as a way to turn back climate change but keep the country economically competitive, embracing environmental justice, and improving overall health. Biden has already rejoined the Paris Agreement and set a goal of reaching net zero emissions by 2050.

His administration has taken numerous steps to reverse Trump-era environmental regulatory rollbacks, and advance measures for climate mitigation and adaptation, often through executive orders. Biden has pushed action on offshore wind, and electric vehicles, while revoking previous orders to promote fossil fuel extraction on federal lands, and the fast-tracking of oil and gas pipelines.

» READ MORE: Biden summit draws climate vows from sparring global leaders. U.S. pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions by more than half by 2030

Global energy demand is expected to increase by 4.6% in 2021, offsetting the 4% decrease in 2020 because of the pandemic, according to the International Energy Agency. Most of the increased demand will come from developing economies, as energy use in advanced economies is expected to fall below pre-COVID-19 levels.

“Global leadership begins at home, and Biden is leading by example,” Mitchell Bernard, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement, calling the goal ”ambitious yet achievable.”

Robert E. Kopp, director of the Rutgers Institute of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, said Biden’s push demonstrates that “the U.S. is willing to play its role in the global effort to limit warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), a target set in the 2015 Paris climate agreement.”

His colleague Pamela McElwee, an associate professor in the department of human ecology, said the fact that the announcement was made with other world leaders shows the administration understands “that only through global cooperation can we get to net zero, and that we need a broad coalition of people in the discussions, from businesses to workers to indigenous people to youth.”

» READ MORE: President Biden’s new offshore wind plan could be boost to New Jersey

The New Jersey Sierra Club said such drastic reductions are necessary, noting that the Garden State is “disproportionately impacted by sea-level rise and climate impacts.”

“Biden is reaching for 50% reductions by 2030 while New Jersey is only aiming for 30% by then,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “We need to strengthen our clean energy goals because we are one of the most vulnerable states to climate impacts.”

Meanwhile, skeptics said the administration’s goals are aggressive and would require transforming the fossil fuel industry. They noted that the announcement was short on specifics, and asked how its needed measures would get through a closely divided Congress.

The Marcellus Shale Coalition, along with the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business & Industry, Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association, and other groups, sent a letter Wednesday to the White House, stating that “carbon dioxide emissions tied to power generation continue to fall, with 2018-2019 emissions down 8.4%, according to new Environmental Protection Agency data.”

That change came as the use of coal-fired power plants dwindled with the transition to natural gas tapped through hydraulic fracturing, with Texas and Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale region among the top producers in the United States.

“We encourage your administration to promote policies reflecting the essential role American natural gas plays in this endeavor,” the letter stated. “The workers and local small businesses driving the economy and helping to build America back are essential to a low carbon future which cannot be achieved without an affordable and reliable source of clean energy. Natural gas is, and should continue to be, the key to our country’s environmental progress.”

Meanwhile, the American Petroleum Institute said it “supports the goals of the Paris Agreement” and called for embracing cleaner technology, and a market-based solution such as seeking to lower emissions by attaching a cost to carbon.

» READ MORE: South Jersey has fastest sea level rise on East Coast, study finds

Frank Macchiarola, API senior vice president of policy, economics and regulatory affairs, was to appear before the House Subcommittee on the Environment on Thursday.

“It is essential that policymakers implement effective and achievable measures that facilitate advancements in reducing emissions, while supporting America’s economy, employment, and energy security,” Macchiarola said in prepared remarks.