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Biden finally has a climate bill. What happens next?

President Biden shows a wind turbine size comparison chart during a meeting at the White House in Washington on June 23, 2022. (Susan Walsh/AP)

For 18 months, President Biden’s climate agenda was in limbo. The White House and Senate Democrats were in bumpy negotiations with Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), talks that often seemed like they’d go nowhere (and, on occasion, collapsed). Meanwhile, the administration held its fire on several key issues — such as more fossil fuel drilling on federal lands, which would violate a Biden climate pledge — as it waited to see whether Manchin would come around.

Then in June, in a long anticipated decision, the Supreme Court clipped the administration’s wings by limiting how the Environmental Protection Agency can regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

But now, Biden finally has a strong tail wind as he begins to shape the climate policy for the rest of his term. The Senate has passed the largest climate bill ever undertaken in the United States — which the House is expected to pass Friday for Biden’s signature.

The hard part is not over yet, though. Here are some of the tough decisions facing the administration after Biden signs the bill and it becomes law.

Ramping up regulation

With the climate bill nearly across the finish line, the administration’s attention will turn to writing a slew of rules confronting global warming to accompany the legislation.

For instance, one of the central features of the Inflation Reduction Act is a fee on the emission of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Oil and gas facilities will start paying $900 a ton.

But for the fee to function as designed, the EPA needs to finish writing a pending methane regulation. The agency put forward a draft rule to better monitor and capture the planet-warming pollutant in November but has yet to finalize the rulemaking.

Another key rulemaking Biden’s team is aiming to complete: Limits on tailpipe pollution for cars made for Model Year 2027 and later.

Those standards would work in conjunction with the billions of dollars in rebates for new electric cars included in the climate bill, designed to encourage both automakers and drivers to ditch gasoline-guzzling vehicles and go electric.

When it comes to regulating carbon pollution from cars, “they have a lot of authority in that space,” said Jamal Raad, a co-founder and the executive director of the environmental group Evergreen Action. The EPA is planning to finalize a tailpipe rule by 2024.

The clock is ticking: If Biden loses reelection, any rule completed in the last few months of his administration is at risk of being struck down by Congress using a law called the Congressional Review Act. If Biden or another Democrat wins in 2024, though, the rules will be safe.

Difficult decisions on drilling

To win the support of Manchin, the compromise climate bill mandates oil and gas leasing in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Alaska. It also links building offshore wind turbines on the East Coast and construction of solar and wind farms on federal acreage out West to ongoing oil and gas auctions.

The new law makes it pretty much impossible for Biden to meet his campaign promise of ending new drilling in federal lands and waters, especially if he wants to build out renewable generation. “No more drilling on federal lands, period,” he said during the campaign. “Period, period, period.”

Now his administration will have to figure out how to balance the goal of limiting emissions from federal oil and gas reserves with keeping gasoline prices under control and complying with the new law.

There are options for constraining new oil and gas development, if the administration so chooses.

The Interior Department, for instance, could raise royalty rates on onshore drilling and set new rules for venting methane, both of which would make it more costly for producers to drill. And the government could conduct the bulk of its wind lease sale earlier so it can avoid holding as many oil and gas auctions.

“There are ways that the Interior Department can play this that follows the letter of the law,” said Kevin Book, a managing director of the consulting firm ClearView Energy Partners, “but not necessarily contrary to the president’s initial intent, the spirit of this campaign promise to stop leasing.”

The White House declined to comment on the future of the fossil-fuel leasing program.

Is climate change still an emergency?

Rhetorically, Biden has been clear: Climate change, he has repeatedly said, is an “existential threat.” But the White House has stopped short of officially declaring climate change a national emergency.

Invoking the National Emergencies Act and other existing laws could allow the administration to check off a host of items on the wish list of many Democratic lawmakers and climate activists: halting crude oil exports, directing defense dollars toward renewable energy and curtailing private investment in fossil fuel projects abroad.

This summer, the White House toyed with the idea of an emergency declaration as a way of advancing his climate agenda in the absence of help from Congress as talks with Manchin stalled. The option is still on the table for Biden, but, for now, the administration has been cagey about what it will do.

“Right now, we are glad to see that Congress has heeded the call,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters last month when asked whether the president would still declare a climate emergency.

Many activists are still agitating for a declaration. “Biden can and must do more,” said Jean Su, a program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “When he signs this bill into law, the president must also declare a climate emergency and use the full force of his executive powers to confront the deadly fossil fuel industry head-on.”

The move, though, would carry political risks as Republicans look for ways to attack Democrats on gasoline prices and other issues ahead of the midterm elections in November.

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