Voters Have Complicated Views Of Biden's Climate Action : The NPR Politics Podcast The White House describes the $369 billion of spending inside the Inflation Reduction Act as the biggest investment in combating climate change in the history of the world — but climate-minded voters remains frustrated about concessions he's made to allow fossil fuel extraction as the country continues to face extreme temperatures and billion-dollar disasters.

This episode: White House reporter Deepa Shivaram, White House correspondent Tamara Keith, and climate correspondent Nate Rott.

The podcast is produced by Casey Morell and Elena Moore. Our editor is Eric McDaniel. Our executive producer is Muthoni Muturi.

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Voters Have Complicated Views Of Biden's Climate Action

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(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIG TOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

DEEPA SHIVARAM, HOST:

Hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Deepa Shivaram. I cover the White House.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: And I'm Tamara Keith. I also cover the White House.

SHIVARAM: Today on the show, we're going to talk about climate policy. And who better to do that with than NPR's Nathan Rott from our climate team? Hey, Nate.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Oh, hey. Thanks for having me.

SHIVARAM: (Laughter) Good to have you. So there are a lot of things to cover on the climate policy front, but let's start with this. The Biden administration promised to cut U.S. greenhouse gas pollution to 50% by the end of the decade. And that 50% cut, we should point out, is based on levels from 2005. There's been a lot thrown at this goal - right? - from provisions in the bipartisan infrastructure law to federal lands protections. But the big thing, the thing that the Biden administration calls the biggest climate law in world history, which is called the Inflation Reduction Act, is set to invest $369 billion into curbing emissions. So how far does that go toward achieving Biden's emissions pledge?

ROTT: So let me say this first. You're right. Let's not get this twisted. You know, the IRA was and is the biggest federal investment the U.S. has ever made in adapting and mitigating climate change. It's the biggest single step the U.S. has ever taken towards addressing our outsized contribution to climate change. Because let's not forget, you know, the U.S. is the single - largest emitter of climate-warming emissions to the planet since the industrial revolution. Does the Inflation Reduction Act get us to the climate goals that Biden has set? No.

Every study I've seen projecting how much, you know, the IRA is going to cut U.S. emissions finds that it falls short of the current pledges that we've made, that 50% by the end of the decade. There was a study out of Princeton University earlier this year that estimates that the IRA and its programs will help the U.S. cut anywhere from 43% to 48% of its emissions, compared to 2005, by the end of the decade. Other estimates from places like the Rhodium Group have not been as optimistic. So really, no matter where you're looking, however you slice it, we are not going to hit that 50% through the IRA alone.

KEITH: I was on Air Force One, headed out with President Biden to do several climate-related events, and his top climate adviser came back to the press cabin in on the plane. And he was very optimistic. Everybody kept peppering him with questions like, but, but you're not going to - and how are you going to? And the takeaway was that the Biden White House is optimistic about private industry, about economic forces, about all of these things moving the U.S. at an accelerated pace at some point before that deadline.

SHIVARAM: So should the U.S. be optimistic here? Is the Biden administration right about this, Nate? I mean, what else do they need to get done to reach that 50% number?

ROTT: So, I mean, there's tons of uncertainties here, right? Like, we don't know what the cost of oil is going to be in 2040, right? So, like, that's going to play a huge factor whether or not, like, oil and natural gas is still, like, a super viable energy provider versus renewable energies and everything. But truly, I mean, the thing that I think, you know, when I talk to people about kind of this investment that the federal government is putting into renewable energy and addressing climate change, a lot of the folks I talked to say, you know, like, look. When you see, like, large market, like, economy-wide shifts happen, it has to happen through help with the federal government, right?

The federal government, through the Biden administration right now, is signaling that, like, hey, we are serious about climate change. We're serious about addressing its causes. We're serious about addressing, you know, steps that need to be taken to try to mitigate the climate change that's already occurred because a lot of it already has happened. And so this is a big signal to private industry that, hey, the federal government is putting money into this. You should put your money into it, too. And we're seeing that. I mean, there's a solar manufacturing plant that was built in Dalton, Ga., in Marjorie Taylor Greene's district for $3 billion. So that's $3 billion of private investment that have gone towards, you know, trying to meet some of these goals that the Biden administration has made.

SHIVARAM: And, Tam, let's get into the politics of this too. Tons of manufacturing jobs, clean energy jobs coming from this legislation as well in all corners of the country, to Nate's point. And this is something that Biden actually kind of talks about more when he's talking about the IRA on the trail. He sort of talks about it as a jobs bill. But I'm curious. I mean, you've been traveling with him. You've been on the road. How has he talked about his climate efforts? You know, in the past couple of months, has there been a shift? Is he changing his language from place to place? How does that look?

KEITH: So the thing about the Inflation Reduction Act is it does a lot of stuff. Yes. It is the biggest climate investment that the U.S. has ever made. It is also a bill to lower prescription drug prices. And it is, you know, also a bill - like, it does a lot of different things. It is called the Inflation Reduction Act. It doesn't technically lower inflation, but it does many other things that are not advertised in the name of the bill. And so depending on where President Biden is, he's talking about it as the greatest jobs creating legislation ever, or he's talking about it as this really important investment in, you know, America's climate future, or he's talking about it lowering the cost of insulin for seniors. So it really just depends on which event you're at, whether he's selling it hard as a climate investment.

And the other thing I will say is that it sort of depends on which Democratic constituency group he's talking to and who he's trying to appeal to in that moment. But what you've seen is a - and I hate to use a White House word here - but a pretty regular cadence of a rotation of Biden messaging events between talking about lowering costs, talking about creating jobs, talking about infrastructure and then talking about climate. And when you pass a giant piece of legislation, you can spend a lot of time cutting ribbons and announcing new programs. And that's exactly what they're doing.

SHIVARAM: Right. They definitely want to hype this up. And they have been since it passed. But the other thing that we talked about - and to your point earlier, Tam, on on who they're targeting as this messaging goes out - there are folks who are particularly concerned about climate. They vote on this issue. Younger voters in particular are very fired up about climate change, voting on climate change. These are folks who are critical to Biden's coalition in the 2020 election if he's going to get reelected in 2024. And not everyone here is a hundred percent on board with what Biden has accomplished on the climate front. There are definitely concerns about a broken promise that he made during the election in 2020, and that was to end fossil fuel drilling on federal lands. Take a listen to what he said in a debate.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: No. 1, no more subsidies for fossil fuel industry, no more drilling on federal lands, no more drilling, including offshore, no ability for the oil industry to continue to drill - period - ends, No. 1.

SHIVARAM: So that promise wasn't exactly kept.

KEITH: Well...

ROTT: No.

KEITH: If the word no is what you're focused on, then correct because they have approved numerous controversial permits. But the White House position has generally been, well, our hands were tied legally.

ROTT: Yeah.

KEITH: Nate...

ROTT: Yeah. I mean, the Biden administration has definitely said, like, look. We said we were going to do this. But the reality is something different. And that's partly because of, yes, the courts. I mean, I think it was 14 oil- and gas-producing states, Republican-led states, you know, sued the Biden administration, basically saying that you still need to be able to do oil and gas drilling and leasing, right? And they've done that. And frankly, I mean, one of the things that I think gets overlooked here is that, like, when you look at the actual language of the Inflation Reduction Act, it explicitly says that the U.S. must continue to do oil and gas lease sales. So...

KEITH: Right.

ROTT: That was part of the deal to get this through with Senator Joe Manchin. So because of that, we've seen the Biden administration approved things like the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which would carry natural gas out of West Virginia, Senator Joe Manchin's state. Biden administration approved the Willow project, a massive oil development in Alaska that was super, super-controversial. And that's part of the reason that, you know, like, a couple of weeks ago, we saw tens of thousands of people marching in New York during the UN General Assembly demanding that Biden do more...

KEITH: Yeah.

ROTT: ...To stop warming, saying he's not doing enough. And then, you know, a week later, what do we see? The city gets walloped by this massive storm and flooding that caused all sorts of destruction in Brooklyn.

SHIVARAM: Yeah. And there have been some efforts, I should point out, like, since, you know, this criticism has come. Obviously, after the IRA was passed, there are folks who still have things that they want the Biden administration to push forward on. And at the same time, there are some other things that the Biden White House has put forward. There are some federal lands protections. He recently created the Climate Corps Service organization. So there are some other things that are also kind of coming, right?

KEITH: Climate Corps.

ROTT: Yeah.

KEITH: Part of the Inflation Reduction Act.

SHIVARAM: Climate Corps. Right.

ROTT: For sure. And look. The Climate Corps is, like - I did a story on this a couple of years ago, when it was something that they were talking about doing a much larger version of that they were not able to get through Congress. And, I mean, we talked to people that voted for Donald Trump who were like, I would love to see a Climate Corps created because there is a need in this country for jobs programs for young people. And, you know, there's a cool history there of the Conservation Corps being a big economic driver in the 1930s.

SHIVARAM: All right - time for a quick break. And we'll be back in a second.

And we're back. Nate, let's talk extreme weather. We've seen so many more wildfires, floods at a very intense level. How is the U.S. doing at building resilience?

ROTT: The U.S. has experienced $23 billion disasters just this year, and that's 23 disasters alone - single disasters that caused at least a billion dollars in damage. And I say at least because in some cases it's much more so, you know, we're talking about the wildfires in Hawaii - right? - that devastated the town of Lahaina, the flooding that happened out here in California this winter and spring, which caused a lake to reemerge in California's Central Valley, your hometown, Tam...

KEITH: Yes.

ROTT: ...Some of the places there.

KEITH: Oh, my God - a lake that was only legend in my childhood. Yeah.

ROTT: Totally. Yeah. Tulare Lake - it's back. You know, we've seen severe storms in the northeast, the Midwest, the heartland. And a lot of these extreme weather events that caused these damages - you know, wildfires and hurricanes in particular - are getting worse because of human-caused climate change. We know that the science is extremely clear on that. What's also clear is that these kinds of extreme events are going to get worse the more the world warms. I mean, the reason the Biden administration wants to limit our emissions to 50% of what they were in 2005 is because the more the climate warms, the worse these things are going to get. It's not like there's just some set amount of more intense and more frequent wildfires as the world gets hotter. They're already more intense. They're already more frequent. And that's going to become increasingly so the more the world warms.

SHIVARAM: Right. And we're not even getting into, like, the extreme heat here, which is the most extreme...

ROTT: Totally.

SHIVARAM: ...Weather that people will experience frequently, right? Like, these are getting worse. People are actively dying every summer when the temperatures are plus-110 degrees for a week straight. We don't really have a lot of infrastructure for this.

ROTT: Yes. Sad, little-known fact - that of all natural disasters that occur in the U.S. every year, heatwaves kill more than everything else combined.

KEITH: Nate, I do want to talk about this resilience idea, though. And I guess I have a question for you because the politics around climate change are pretty broken. Like, we went from 2008, when both candidates for president agreed that climate change was a problem and they agreed that something should be done, to now, where there's not agreement, where the parties have just gone in completely different directions and there's polarization. But it strikes me that resilience, like helping communities protect themselves from storms, building up wetlands and other things to make them more able to withstand hurricanes and things like that - that, in theory, is less polarizing and is...

ROTT: For sure.

KEITH: ...Potentially an area of political coming together.

ROTT: Yeah. I mean, like, look. Everybody loves to talk about the weather. I cover a lot of these natural disasters around the country. And, you know, like I've heard it from, you know, Imperial Beach at, like, the far southern end of California, right? It's on the coast. It's a town...

KEITH: Yeah.

ROTT: ...That's got a big military presence. It's a pretty conservative place. I talked to the mayor there a few years ago, and he was like, look. I just don't call it climate change. I've reported on...

SHIVARAM: Yeah.

ROTT: ...Crazy flooding in the heartland - right? - in the Bible Belt and talked to people there. And, I mean, like, a colleague and I, Rebecca Hersher - we kind of made a deal that, like, everyone we talked to about what they were seeing - like, we'd ask them, hey; do you think climate change is contributing to this? And everybody we talked to was like, yes, climate change is real. It's a thing. And we're seeing it. It's something I'm experiencing. Where it gets a little more complicated is kind of what are the causes of climate change, right? So I do think that there's a lot of room there to talk about solutions, to talk about resiliency, to talk about adaptation, especially in conservative places without mentioning climate change and just saying, hey; we're going to put in, you know, a new flood abatement plan because we all can agree that flooding is getting worse, right? And that's something you're going to see a lot of support for because everybody is seeing that. They just don't want to get into the sticky politics of climate change.

SHIVARAM: All right. I want to zoom out a little bit here. Last year at the big U.N. climate conference, all of the world's largest historic emitters - and the U.S., as we talked about earlier, is the greatest emitter of them all - they all agreed to start a loss and damage fund, essentially, to basically help poorer nations that haven't really done much to cause the climate damages that they're facing. But the U.S., Nate - despite Biden's pledge here to quadruple international climate spending, the U.S. hasn't really pitched in all that much. Is that right?

ROTT: Yeah. So when I was at the big U.N. climate summit last year in Sharm el-Sheikh, COP 27 - it's certainly going to be one of the big items at COP 28 in Dubai here in December. I will be there, too, so we can talk then. But, you know, like, yeah. Look. The richest and most powerful 20 countries in the world - right? - the G20 produces about 80% of the world's emissions every year. So when we're talking about kind of who's to blame in terms of what - like, what what's causing climate change, it's certainly the richest countries in the world. It's generally the global north. And the places that are feeling some of the most effects of climate change right now are - is the global south.

So there is a desire in a lot of countries, like, you know, the Marshall Islands and pretty much all of Africa - all these places - people are saying, like, look. You need to give us money to be able to adapt to the climate impacts that we're feeling right now and to pay for some of the damages that we're seeing when we have devastating floods and - like we saw last year in Pakistan or, you know, the devastating floods that happened in Bangladesh or, you know, the crazy wildfires that we're seeing all across the South Pacific. I mean, this is supposed to be a horrific fire season in Australia again this year.

And so there's a desire to see countries put money into that. The U.S., other G20 countries have not put their money where their mouth is. President Biden, the United States, says it has provided a billion dollars to something called the Green Climate Fund, which brings total U.S. contributions to that fund to $2 billion. That is obviously not $4 billion. And so I think there's a growing frustration from countries that are going to take part in these climate negotiations next month about, you know, countries actually ponying up and putting money into some of this stuff.

SHIVARAM: All right. We're going to leave it there for today. Nate Rott, thanks so much for joining us.

ROTT: Hey - pleasure. Thanks for having me.

SHIVARAM: I'm Deepa Shivaram. I cover the White House.

KEITH: And I'm Tamara Keith. I also cover the White House.

SHIVARAM: And thank you for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BIG TOP ORCHESTRA'S "TEETER BOARD: FOLIES BERGERE (MARCH AND TWO-STEP)")

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