Joe Biden’s campaign slogan was a simple message for a country reeling from a deadly pandemic and an economic crisis: “Build Back Better.” With Trump defeated at the polls — whether or not he ever admits it — the stakes are clear. We have to determine how and what we want to build. Those decisions will determine what kind of future we want to create.
But when it comes to the people they want to put in charge of creating climate and energy policies, the Biden camp appears to think “better” means hitting rewind. Rebooting the Obama era will not deliver climate justice; in fact, many of the advisors being considered for key roles in the next White House helped create the current mess.
Obama’s “All Of The Above” Approach Was Disastrous
The Obama administration’s energy policy was best known as an “all of the above” approach — which meant expanding dirty fossil fuel production while also giving lip service to building out renewable capacity. In real terms, what happened was a dramatic expansion of domestic oil and gas drilling via the so-called “fracking boom.”
While hyping gas as a “bridge” to clean energy, the fracking boom polluted frontline communities and fouled drinking water, while creating an array of new sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Not only that, the administration was promoting the practice of exporting fracked gas to other countries, using fossil fuels as a powerful foreign policy tool to undercut its adversaries.
We knew at the time that fracking was bad. We know a lot more now about the harms created by fracking, and the climate crisis is a far more urgent issue than it was 12 years ago. It simply makes no sense to put the same people in charge again.
Ernest Moniz Gave Fracking A False Sense Of Scientific Acceptability
The person attracting the most criticism is Ernest Moniz, who was Obama’s Energy Secretary in his second term. But before then, he was best known for being an industry-friendly academic whose work gave the veneer of scientific credibility to fracking. In 2010, his MIT Energy Initiative produced a hugely influential study touting fracking as a “bridge” to clean energy, while discounting the environmental and climate impacts of oil and gas drilling.
After leaving government in 2017, Moniz went back to working directly with corporations. He joined the board of utility giant Southern Company, and founded an industry-friendly think tank called the Energy Futures Initiative. While the grassroots climate movement has been rallying behind big picture solutions like the Green New Deal, Moniz was peddling a “Green Real Deal” based on promoting nuclear energy, carbon capture and the continued burning of fossil fuels.
Moniz is not the only name worth keeping an eye on in the Biden administration. Another name that has been circulating is Jason Bordoff, a former Obama climate adviser who has been laying out what he sees as Biden’s policy options. After leaving the Obama administration, Bordoff founded the Center on Global Energy Policy, an institution funded by the oil and gas industry.
Setting aside the lofty rhetoric, the Obama administration’s “all of the above” climate legacy was best summed up by the former president himself. Two years ago, he bragged about who was responsible for making the United States the biggest oil and gas producer in the world: “That was me, people.” When it comes to fossil fuels, we need to move from “all of the above” to “none of the above.”
A retro "Back to the Future" climate policy won’t get the job done. If Biden wants to be a climate president, he must make it clear that the mistakes of the past will not be repeated in the present.