Joe Biden’s first moves on the economy and climate change have been bolder than some expected. But they are full of indications that he has no plans to challenge big business or the rich.
And he has already launched his first airstrikes, inside eastern Syria and Iraq, in a sign he will vigorously assert US imperial power.
The US economy has suffered an enormous hit from COVID. Biden’s $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan” stimulus package passed the Senate through a “Budget Reconciliation” process which allows budget bills to pass with a simple majority vote. This meant any effort to secure bipartisan support from the Republicans, as Biden has often spoken of, was bypassed.
The package includes a one-off stimulus payment of $1400 and a temporary increase of $100 a week for welfare payments. While the media and the ruling class claim the stimulus package is too big, for the 10.1 million unemployed Americans the package is pittance as they struggle to make ends meet.
And Biden backed down on his promise to increase the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $15 an hour. For the 42.4 per cent of Americans who work minimum wage jobs, a liveable wage rise would mean real change. This had already been delayed until 2025, but even Bernie Sanders caved in to a Republican demand in the Senate not to increase wages during the pandemic.
Joe Biden went to the 2020 presidential election with a climate package he says will deliver a Clean Energy Revolution.
On his first days in office he made a number of executive orders that are a real break from the anti-climate Trump administration.
But with modest measures that have the backing of big business, and conservative Democrats holding the balance of power, there’s nothing revolutionary about Biden’s climate policy.
Biden has promised a $2 trillion clean energy package which aims to accelerate the renewable energy transition, remove carbon emissions from the electricity sector by 2035 and reach net zero emissions by 2050. The plan also claims to create ten million jobs in the clean energy sector.
On Biden’s first day in office, he signed paperwork for the United States to re-join the Paris Agreement—107 days after Trump withdrew its support.
Even big fossil fuel companies support the Paris Agreement, with president of Shell Oil Company Gretchen Watkins applauding Biden’s decision. But the agreement lacks teeth—it’s voluntary, non-binding and allows signatories to set their own emission reduction targets. Current pledges under the Agreement have the world on track for a disastrous 2.6 degrees of warming, well above any safe level.
The critical test is not a target 30 years away but a plan for action in the near term of the next ten years. Biden is yet to outline any details on this.
The Biden administration has also revoked the permit to build the Keystone XL Oil Pipeline, a 2000 kilometre project which would carry crude oil and tar sands from Alberta, Canada to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico.
The construction of the pipeline would have seen the US pumping out crude oil well beyond 2050—the date at which the Paris Agreement aims to see the world at net zero emissions.
The project had already been stalled by legal challenges.
Its economic viability has also been under question, with declining oil prices making it unprofitable to produce oil from tar, which requires an expensive refinery process, and creates toxic by-products.
The ban comes after 12 years of sustained protests against the project, involving climate activists, Indigenous groups and farmers and landowners across the country.
But Biden is yet to take a stance on other controversial oil pipeline projects—the Dakota Access Pipeline, which saw 15,000 people protest at Standing Rock in 2016, and the Line 3 project in Minnesota.
Biden has also issued a two-month pause on new leases and permits for oil drilling, but only on public land.
As of 2019, 26 million acres of United States land were leased to oil and gas companies, but this accounts for only 25 per cent of all oil and gas exploration. Seventy-five per cent of drilling occurs on private land. But even a permanent ban on new leases will see drilling expand as only half of the leases approved between 2014 and 2019 have actually been used.
While the Democrats now control both houses of Congress by a slim majority, at least two anti-climate Democrats, including Senator Joe Manchin from the coal state of West Virginia, effectively have a veto over any climate legislation.
Biden’s first weeks in office are a welcome change from the Trump administration.
But with his narrow majority and centrist policies, Biden is not going to deliver the meaningful change needed to tackle climate change and inequality.
By Ruby Wawn