Less favoring of fossil fuels?

Congress has a “fiscal and moral responsibility to stop taxpayer dollars from padding the profits of an industry that is destroying our planet.” —Senator Bernie Sanders

Last December at the U.N. Environmental Conference in Dubai,U.A.E., one positive accomplishment was a document signed after much argument by representatives of each of the 197 countries attending the conference. For the first time, the individual countries pledged to “transition” away from fossil fuels toward cleaner sources of energy. And for the first time a U.N. document used the term “climate change”.

But despite the heroic efforts of former U.S. Climate Ambassador John Kerry in getting the members to sign onto this pledge, hope for any substantial re-orientation of energy priorities by the major participants in the forseeable future seems unlikely. Even in the U.S. talk is still much more plentiful than action.

However, a recent initiative by President Biden while not likely to be enacted for the time being seems very promising for the future should he win the 2024 election with a significant Democratic majority in Congress. While he has put similar proposals forth for each of the last three years, his call in the recent State of the Union address for removing the dozen or so oil and gas subsidies could make a real difference in our energy future. It would indicate that the U.S. is serious about combating climate change and push the rest of the world to do the same.

Exxon Mobil and Chevron, the largest U.S. energy companies, are enormously profitable. Last year, American companies pumped 13 million barrels each day on average, a record that had made the United States the largest crude oil producer in the world and also the world’s leading exporter of liquefied natural gas.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the major subsidies to the oil and gas industry cost taxpayers an estimated $14 billion a year or more.

Instead of investing in their businesses, the oil and gas companies have poured profits into stock buybacks, mergers, and acquisitions that benefited executives and wealthy shareholders. A New York Times analysis of lobbying reports found that energy companies have spent more than $30 million since Mr. Biden was elected just on lobbying efforts that included preserving the intangible drilling and depletion allowance tax breaks. But Biden’s proposed elimination of tax breaks for the fossil fuel industry, saving taxpayers billions a year is opposed by the fossil fuel industry, former President Trump, Republicans in Congress, and a number of key Democratic legislators including Senator Manchin of West Virginia.

The President is in a difficult position politically. He is fully aware that most nations, including his own, are not doing nearly enough to meet their commitments to decrease the use of fossil fuel. The political game demands that its participants consider environmental matters only on the most mundane level.

Despite the severity of the environmental crises we face, President Biden continues to talk about it in routine terms. Yes, we can put more Americans to work by building more clean energy facilities, and we need to recycle our waste and reclaim derelict land. But even more, we need to realize that we must move faster and more forcefully to arrest the overwhelmimg climate change that may make the planet uninhabitable.

An ominous article in the March 15th issue of The New Yorker by Elizabeth Kolbert entitled “Why is the sea so hot?” leaves one wondering if this unprecedented rise in ocean temperatures is a signal that Earth may be racing to a point of no return.

Former President Trump erased over 100 significant environmental rules instituted by the Obama administration and he keeps telling his supporters that climate change is a “hoax” and that the U.S. needs to “drill, drill, drill. . .” to produce as much fossil fuel as possible.

And many of the leading members of Congress seem to agree as do most Republican voters.

So Biden’s reluctance to campaign on environmental issues in a major way is understandable; with the presidential race so tight it seems smarter to stick to the most commonly discussed issues such as immigrants at the border and consumer economics.

But if Biden is returned to office a much more robust environmental agenda is likely to result. Should Trump win the presidency and the Republicans control Congress, current environmental protections will be substantially dismantled.

Architect and landscape designer Mac Gordon lives in Lakeville.

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