with Alexandra Ellerbeck

We are only one week into Joe Biden's presidency, and Republican lawmakers are raring for a fight as his administration begins an ambitious effort to address global warming.

A flurry of early actions – culminating with a sweeping executive order Biden signed Wednesday – has prompted swift backlash from GOP lawmakers ready to defend the fossil fuel sector and the jobs it sustains in many of their states. 

Republicans say the president's initial calls for unity feel empty with what they consider an attack on the energy sector during an economic recession that already has the industry ailing

“You can't just go cold turkey overnight,” Rep. Bruce Westerman (Ark.), the top Republican on the House Natural Resources Committee, said in a recent interview. “You've got to figure out a way to keep the economy strong.”

Biden and his environmentalist allies, however, say there is a high cost to waiting to stop the dangerous warming that climate scientists warn will happen if the world continues burning oil, gas and coal at the current rate over the next decade.

“In my view, we've already waited too long to deal with this climate crisis," Biden said in a speech at the White House Wednesday. "We can't wait any longer." 

Biden's energy secretary nominee is bearing the brunt of the Republican pushback so far. 

Confirmation hearings for even his uncontroversial Cabinet picks have become forums for Republican lawmakers to air their grievances with recent Biden decisions, including calls to calculate the cost of carbon emissions to society and to pause oil and gas leasing on federal lands and waters.

Biden and his team say his climate agenda doubles as a plan to create thousands of union jobs constructing and installing wind turbines, solar panels, electric cars, charging stations and the like. “I am obsessed with creating good-paying jobs in America,” energy secretary nominee Jennifer Granholm told senators during her hearing Wednesday.

President Biden on Jan. 27 signed three executive actions to combat climate change and said the U.S. had waited too long to deal with the “climate crisis.” (The Washington Post)

But Republicans from oil- and gas-producing states grilled her on how quickly those jobs would come to fruition. 

“If you've lost a job that is putting food on the table now, it's cold comfort to know that years from now — perhaps in a different state with a different training within which you have — there'll be another job available,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, whose coastline is dotted with offshore oil platforms.

Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, the nation's top coal-mining state, grilled Granholm about the halt in new oil and gas leasing on federal lands and waters. “I'm not going to sit idly by,” he said, “if the Biden administration enforces policies that threaten Wyoming's economy.” His office issued a statement calling Biden's decision on leasing “divisive and illegal.”

In response, Granholm noted Biden's executive order does not ban drilling on the thousands of leases already sold to drillers.

Environmental activists and think tanks allied with Democrats were quick to come to the defense of the Biden administration when attacked by Republicans and the fossil fuel sector, arguing industry has influenced the debate around climate policy for too long.

“Big Oil’s sky-is-falling claims are unfounded,” said Jenny Rowland-Shea, a senior policy analyst for public lands at the Center for American Progress.

Biden's other Cabinet picks are also being pressed.

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) said in an interview Tuesday that he’s asked every Biden Cabinet nominee whether they’re committed to sustaining oil and gas development along with renewable energy in the United States.

“I can’t find a Cabinet official that I’ve interviewed who has said, ‘I am going to be a strong advocate for a robust energy sector that makes us energy independent,” he said “I’ve asked them all. Not a one.” He added it was this sort of attitude that prompted him to vote against Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen despite the fact that she’s “incredibly qualified, amazingly qualified.”

Meanwhile, Ted Cruz of Texas, the top oil-producing state, asked commerce secretary nominee Gina Raimondo about Biden's decision to nix the Keystone XL pipeline.

“What would you say to those 11,000 construction workers whose jobs have been destroyed by the stroke of a pen?” Cruz said, though that number refers to temporary jobs, barring 50 or so permanent positions. 

“I would say that we’re going to get you to work,” she responded. “I would say that climate change is a threat to all of us.”

A handful of GOP moderates, such as Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Mitt Romney (Utah), are willing to break with their party on former president Donald Trump's second impeachment trial and other big issues. But as representatives of oil- and gas-producing states, they are not as apt to cheer on Biden's climate agenda.

“For us in resource-based states, I just hope you hear the concern,” Murkowski told Granholm. “We're a state that's seeing the daily impact of climate change, so we know that we need to be aggressive. But we also know that we have to be [an energy] provider.”

Republicans are mulling ways of shaping — or stalling — Biden's climate agenda.

The initial reaction put a damper on hopes of much of the rest Biden's climate agenda, which will require approval from Congress, getting bipartisan support. 

With a 50-50 split in the Senate, Democrats need some GOP help to overcome the 60-vote filibuster threshold to pass sweeping legislation. Riled-up Senate Republicans may be primed to block much of Biden’s legislative agenda on climate. 

On the other side of the Capitol, top Republicans plan to talk to Democrats from oil, gas and coal states. The path for bills to pass the House got narrower for Democrats after losing seats in the 2020 election.

“Republicans, Democrats and independents all breathe the air and drink the water, but I don't think this is the right approach,” said Westerman, who advocates for planting and harvesting trees to keep carbon out of the air. 

“We've got to make that argument to our friends across the aisle,” he added. “If you're a Democrat in Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Louisiana — go down the list of these states that this is going to have dramatic negative impacts.”

Outside Washington, six Republican attorneys general warned Biden not to overstep his authority with his executive actions. West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who led the letter, sued to block the Obama administration’s efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

Now, Morrisey told Fox News that Biden's climate plan is “much more radical” than President Barack Obama's. “The president is really taking a wrecking ball to many of the states that have oil, gas, coal, manufacturing jobs.”

Juliet Eilperin contributed to this report.

Read more from Eilperin and Brady Dennis here:

Power plays

Here are more highlights from Biden's big “Climate Day." 
  • Mark your calendar: Biden will host an international climate summit to be held on Earth Day, April 22. The United States also will start determining its emissions reduction targets under the Paris agreement, although top climate advisers provided little information about what those targets will be. Biden has pledged to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.
  • More from the executive order: Biden is launching a new initiative to ensure 40 percent of federal climate investment go to disadvantaged communities and is kicking off a Civilian Climate Corps, modeled after one of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal work program, to work on replanting forests, protecting habitat and increasing resiliency to climate change. His order also asks agencies to eliminate subsides to fossil fuel producers “as consistent with applicable law.”
On Jan. 26, President Biden’s climate envoy, former secretary of state John F. Kerry, spoke on a climate change combating executive order Biden intends to sign. (The Washington Post)
  • Over at the Pentagon: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced that the military will start incorporating climate change into its war games and national defense strategy. Climate envoy John F. Kerry added that Biden has made climate “central to foreign policy and national security preparedness," adding that climate would be a “critical and stand-alone issue” when it came to relations with China.
Investors are rushing to invest in green businesses.

A surge in sustainable investments has boosted financing for renewables, more efficient industries and new green technologies.

“For years, big renewable energy projects have found it relatively easy to raise money. Many investors have been attracted to the glitz of Tesla, the steel turbines in windmills or the fields of photovoltaic panels,” our colleague Steven Mufson writes.

“But now, as the cost of renewable energy plummets and awareness of the magnitude of climate change grows, market forces are luring investors into all sorts of ‘green’ finance, nearly doubling the size of green bonds and green equity funds. These investors are looking up and down supply chains and searching not only for established companies, but also for innovative ones at early stages of development,” he continues.

From January through November 2020, investors in mutual funds and exchange-traded funds invested $288 billion globally in sustainable assets, a 96 percent increase over the sum for all of 2019, BlackRock chief executive Larry Fink said in an open letter to corporate leaders this week.

As investment surges, so have accusations of greenwashing. Some investors, for instance, were skeptical of a $1 billion green bond issued by PepsiCola, which went to buy recycled plastic. Critics say that company would have had to buy that plastic anyway.

Private capital will be crucial if the world is to meet the 2030 targets of the Paris climate accord. The International Energy Agency estimates that investments in low carbon energy will need to increase 2½ times from the current level of about $620 billion a year to reach these targets.

Global shark populations are crashing.

The number of sharks and rays in the open ocean has declined by 71 percent over the last half-century, according to a study published in the journal Nature. And that decline, mostly driven by overfishing, could even be an underestimate given incomplete data from some of the worst-hit regions, according to the study authors.

“The research offers the latest data point in what is a dismal trajectory for Earth’s biodiversity. From butterflies to elephants, wildlife populations have crashed in recent decades and as many as a million species of animals and plants are at risk of extinction,” the New York Times reports.

Sharks and rays are caught for their meat, fins, gill plates and liver oil or captured incidentally when fisherman are trying to catch tuna or swordfish. Scientists have urged governments to put limits on shark fishing and incentivize fishermen to take steps to prevent incidental catches.

The Doomsday clock continues to teeter near midnight.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists kept the Doomsday Clock at 100 seconds to midnight, the symbolic hour that marks the end of the world. The clock remains at the same point as last year when it was moved past the two-minute mark for the first time in 70 years, in part to symbolize the threat from climate change, NBC News reports.

The clock was invented as a visual metaphor to symbolize humanity’s proximity to global catastrophe. The Bulletin has maintained it since 1947, when its hands were set at seven minutes, representing the risk of global nuclear war amid the Cold War.

The Bulletin says that nuclear war and climate change remain major threats and are exacerbated by the spread of misinformation. Although the scientists behind the report say that there were some bright spots in humanity’s efforts to combat global warming this year, noting for instance the United States’ reentry into the Paris climate accord, they were not enough to avert the looming existential threat posed by the environmental crisis. 

Extra mileage

A baby panda made its online debut at the National Zoo in Washington.

The zoo is closed because of the pandemic, but panda baby Xiao Qi Ji was still able to make his debut on a live stream. The sleepy cub had just waked up from a nap when the taping started, but he appeared to brighten up when zookeeper Marty Dearie offered him a snack of boiled sweet potato.

“The 21-pound panda turned 5 months old Friday. His mother is Mei Xiang, and his father is Tian Tian. Experts called Mei Xiang’s pregnancy ‘a miracle’ because at the age of 22, she had a less than a 1 percent chance of having another cub,” our colleagues Dana Hedgpeth and Justin Wm. Moyer write.