The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness
The Climate 202

Biden has made progress on climate change so far, but it’s not enough, group says

The Climate 202

Placeholder while article actions load

Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202! 🚨 Sarah Bloom Raskin was nominated as the Federal Reserve's top banking cop last night, The Washington Post's Rachel Siegel scooped. More on that below. But first:

Biden has made progress on climate during his first year, but it’s not enough, environmental group says

The Biden administration has made meaningful progress on climate change during President Biden’s first year in office, but the White House has not moved fast enough to accomplish many of his climate commitments made during the 2020 campaign, according to a new analysis shared exclusively with The Climate 202.

The analysis by Evergreen Action, an environmental group, looked at 46 executive actions on climate change that Biden pledged on the campaign trail to pursue.

The report, which the White House disputed, comes as climate advocates increasingly acknowledge the need for executive action if Democrats’ Build Back Better bill dies in Congress.

“The president ran and won on the most visionary and aggressive climate platform of any president in U.S. history. And during their first year in office, they’ve made some really important progress, but the fact is, they just haven’t gone far enough fast enough,” Lena Moffitt, campaign director for Evergreen, told The Climate 202.

“Unless they pass the climate provisions of the Build Back Better Act and lean in to do more with their executive authority, they’re going to fall short of achieving that really important vision,” Moffitt said.

Evergreen classified the administration’s progress on Biden’s campaign commitments into four categories: “done,” “great progress,” “some progress” and “not enough progress.”

  • The environmental group rated 10 pledges as “done,” including Biden’s promise to reestablish the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, which he did by signing an executive order during his first week in office.
  • The group found that Biden has made “great progress” on five commitments, including his pledge to cut the federal government’s carbon emissions.
  • The report identifies “some progress” on 22 commitments in areas such as the Energy Department’s efforts to update energy efficiency standards, which have faced delays and bureaucratic obstacles.
  • Nine pledges were rated “not enough progress,” including Biden’s vow that every federal infrastructure investment and permitting decision should consider the effects of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.
White House pushback

However, a senior administration official disputed Evergreen’s findings, saying federal agencies have moved swiftly and aggressively to combat the climate crisis within the confines of statutes such as the Administrative Procedure Act.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly about the report, noted that courts struck down former president Donald Trump’s rollbacks of numerous environmental regulations for failing to comply with the relevant laws.

“The agencies have worked adeptly at understanding the procedural requirements [and] abiding by those,” the official said. “And sure, that can be framed as a constraint. But it is a choice that’s consistent with our values.”

Moffitt of Evergreen countered that the administration has not always used its existing legal authority to block fossil fuel production. For example, the Interior Department held the largest offshore oil and gas lease sale in U.S. history in November, even though the Justice Department argued that the government was not legally required to move forward with the sale.

EPA’s progress on clean car rules

The Environmental Protection Agency is at the heart of Biden’s climate agenda. The Evergreen analysis found that the agency has made “some progress” on cutting carbon emissions from new cars and light trucks, a leading source of planet-warming pollution in the United States.

The EPA finalized a rule in December that is more ambitious than Trump’s standard, as well as its own initial proposal in August. While Moffitt called that regulation a “bright spot,” she said more must be done to ensure that all new cars sold in the country are electric vehicles.

This year, Moffitt said the EPA must craft an aggressive clean car rule that extends past model year 2026, while Congress must pass the Build Back Better bill, which would extend generous tax credits to Americans who purchase electric vehicles.

Asked for comment, EPA Deputy Administrator Janet McCabe ​​​​​​said in a statement to​ The Climate 202: “Over the first year of the Biden Administration, EPA has it made it very clear that we will not hesitate to use our authorities to deliver on President Biden’s ambitious climate agenda by aggressively reducing climate pollution and protecting all Americans’ health and the future wellbeing of our country. From the most ambitious standards for cleaner vehicles in history, to covering oil and gas operations including both new and existing wells, to cutting HFCs that would help avoid up to 0.5 °C of global warming, we’re making steady, long term progress to tackle the climate crisis. And there’s more to come.”

Pressure points

Biden taps Sarah Bloom Raskin as the Fed’s top banking cop

Biden on Thursday night nominated Sarah Bloom Raskin to serve as the Federal Reserve’s top banking cop, known as vice chair of supervision, The Post’s Rachel Siegel reports.

The former deputy secretary of the Treasury Department has been outspoken about the risk that climate change poses to financial stability.

In September, Raskin wrote in a column that “all U.S. regulators can — and should — be looking at their existing powers and considering how they might be brought to bear on efforts to mitigate climate risk.”

Those comments could make for a tougher confirmation process in the 50-50 Senate. In a statement last night, Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) said he has "serious concerns" about Raskin's nomination, noting that she "has specifically called for the Fed to pressure banks to choke off credit to traditional energy companies."

The New York Times corrects its crossword clue on coal

A New York Times correction vindicated many environmentally conscious crossword puzzlers who objected to a clue that implied coal could be a green form of energy, E&E News’s Thomas Frank reports.

Monday’s clue and answer to 47 across sparked the controversy. Clue: “Greener energy source.” Answer: “Clean coal.”

The correction stated that “while it is possible to capture and sequester some of the greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants from coal-fired power plants, the technology has never been used on a large scale because of its high cost.”

Lynn Lempel, the puzzle constructor, originally submitted the clue: “Dubious term for a greener energy source.” But Will Shortz, the legendary puzzle editor at the paper, changed the clue and inserted the error over her objection.

“There’s been more politics in puzzles lately about what people should include in puzzles and what people shouldn’t include and the way clues should be directed,” Lempel told E&E News. “I don’t disagree with a lot of that. But it’s a puzzle, you know.”

On the Hill

Nord Stream 2 sanctions fail in the Senate

The Senate yesterday rejected a bill that would have imposed sanctions on Nord Stream 2, a Russia-to-Germany natural gas pipeline, The Post’s Felicia Sonmez and Seung Min Kim report. The bill, which was sponsored by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), was strongly opposed by the Biden administration, which argued that it would hamstring diplomacy and alienate European allies. 

While debates over the bill have centered on geopolitical concerns around Russia and Ukraine, the pipeline has serious climate implications. It has the potential to leak methane, a potent greenhouse gas that is about 85 times as potent as carbon dioxide over 20 years in the atmosphere.

Extreme events

The past seven years have been the hottest ever recorded

Global temperatures in 2021 were between 1.1 and 1.2 degrees Celsius above the preindustrial average, according to new temperature data sets released by NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Berkeley Earth, The Post’s Sarah Kaplan and John Muyskens report.

That makes this past year the sixth-hottest ever recorded, despite a La Niña weather pattern in the Pacific Ocean, which tends to have a cooling effect. The seven hottest years on record have all happened in the past seven years — all with temperatures over 1 degree Celsius above the preindustrial average.

Here are some other grim statistics from the new data sets:

  • July was the hottest month humanity has ever recorded.
  • The heat dome that seared the Pacific Northwest this past summer was “the most anomalous extreme heat event ever observed on Earth,” in the words of one scientist — a disaster so severe that it would have been virtually impossible in a world without climate change.

Of note: These rankings can vary because different research institutions use slightly different data sets. For instance, we reported on Monday that the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service ranked 2021 as the fifth-hottest year on record. 

The global climate

Scientists are on a quest to find koalas in Australia

Ecologists are searching for a hidden population of Australia’s iconic koalas, but their job is getting harder with climate change, The Post’s Michael E. Miller reports.

Two years ago, bush fires killed or displaced an estimated 3 billion animals, including thousands of koalas. Australia’s federal government is now considering labeling half of the country’s koalas as endangered.

Researchers are looking for the marsupials in Australia’s Kosciuszko National Park. Their discovery in the national park would offer evidence that koalas can survive at higher elevations — potentially good news for their ability to adapt to climate change. So far, however, the creatures have remained elusive, much to the frustration of ecologist Karen Marsh, who is part of the expedition.

“Can someone please spot a koala,” Marsh asked her colleagues two months into the search. “That’s all I’m asking.”


Sarah Kaplan, a climate reporter at The Washington Post, with a friendly reminder that capitalism is not a solution to the climate crisis:

Thanks for reading!

Clarification: A previous version of this newsletter referenced reporting from the Guardian that mischaracterized the Justice Department’s arguments regarding the Interior Department's offshore oil and gas lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico. The link to the Guardian article has been removed.