Clean Energy

Biden and Congressional Democrats Support Policies That Will Undermine Their Own Clean Energy Goals

The House passed a resolution that will reimpose tariffs on solar panels from China, while the EPA sits on applications for carbon capture technology that may soon be mandatory.


President Joe Biden is serious about fighting climate change through clean energy. As part of his 2020 presidential platform, he endorsed the ambitious and pricey "Green New Deal" and pledged to "ensure the U.S. achieves a 100% clean energy economy and reaches net-zero emissions no later than 2050." Once in office, Biden "set a goal to reach 100 percent carbon pollution-free electricity by 2035."

It's ironic, then, that Biden's administration and congressional allies are undermining those very same goals.

The two primary methods of mitigating carbon emissions are either reducing the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere—shifting to a cleaner technology like wind or solar, for example—or removing and trapping carbon that has already been released. One example of the latter is carbon capture and storage (CCS), which removes carbon from the atmosphere and contains it within the natural environment, either by absorbing it into trees and oceans or capturing and storing it underground.

According to The New York Times, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will soon announce limits on greenhouse gas emissions for coal- and gas-fired power plants. Citing unnamed officials, the Times expects the limits will force plants to use CCS technology, even though only a handful currently do. Under last year's Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), companies can even qualify for a tax credit of $85 per ton of carbon captured.

But as The Washington Examiner reported, "the administration is currently the largest obstacle to its own climate goals." In order to build out CCS, companies need to construct underground reservoirs, called class VI wells, in which to inject and store captured carbon. And yet the EPA is currently sitting on dozens of permit applications for class VI wells, leaving them in "pending" status. Power plants that want to introduce carbon-mitigating technology are unable to do so until the EPA moves through its backlog.

It's also worth remembering that these are just the existing permit applications: Once the EPA rolls out rules that would functionally require most of the nation's more than 3,400 coal- and gas-fired power plants to use the technology, there's no telling how bad the backlog would get.

Carbon capture isn't even the only area where the government is standing in its own way. The IRA established tax credits for clean-energy expenditures like electric vehicles and solar panels. And while the solar panel credits are exceedingly difficult to qualify for, Democrats in Congress are pushing for tariffs on panels made in China, which will hurt the solar industry's ability to meet demand.

In February 2022, Biden announced that he would renew Trump-era tariffs on Chinese-made solar panels and solar cells. In June, he suspended the tariffs for two years, amid a Commerce Department investigation into companies circumventing the tariffs that roiled the industry. He then invoked the Defense Production Act to boost the domestic manufacture of solar modules and components, which he deemed "essential to the national defense."

But on Friday, the House passed a resolution that would revoke Biden's pause and reinstate the tariffs; 12 Democrats voted for the legislation while eight Republicans voted against it. The Washington Post recently reported that while the solar industry worries that the tariffs would be ruinous, Democrats worry that "taking anything other than a hard line against China will cost them voter support." But it will likely also cost them their clean energy goals, seeing as "Chinese companies manufacture more than 80 percent of certain crucial components sold worldwide" for clean energy applications, including "more than 95 percent of the wafers and ingots essential to assembling photovoltaic solar panels."

This week, Sens. Joe Manchin (D–W.Va.) and Rick Scott (R–Fla.) cosponsored a resolution disapproving of the Biden administration's pause on tariffs. Manchin, who also chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement, "The United States relies on foreign nations, like China, for far too many of our energy needs…. I cannot fathom why the Administration and Congress would consider extending that reliance any longer."

Tariffs, as envisioned by protectionist politicians, boost domestic production by lowering the cost differential between American products and their less-expensive counterparts imported from overseas. But in reality, tariffs simply make imports more expensive and remove market incentives for American companies to sell their products at lower prices.

With these tariffs, Biden and Democrats' clean energy goals will become increasingly difficult to meet.

"The United States cannot produce enough solar panels and cells to meet demand," said Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, "and the remaining 14 months of this moratorium gives us time to close the gap. The United States can get there and become a global leader in clean energy manufacturing and development. Overturning the moratorium at this stage puts that future at risk."