While the climate movement achieved some victories this year, 2023 may ultimately be remembered mostly as a year of key failures and setbacks for environmentalist organizations and their favored policies promulgated by the Biden administration.
The past 12 months saw the collapse of several major offshore wind projects, signs of trouble in the electric vehicle (EV) market, layoffs at major environmentalist groups, a failed pressure campaign to kill a major energy project and more. Environmental activists and green industrial interests largely assumed that the election of President Joe Biden would stand as a boon for their various prerogatives, but this year’s results were not stellar for those interests despite that initial enthusiasm.
Offshore Wind Flounders
The Biden administration and activists in favor of sweeping action on climate change have touted offshore wind as a green energy lynchpin of their envisioned fossil fuel-free future, with the White House expecting the technology to provide enough energy to power 10 million American homes each year by 2030. While the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), Biden’s signature climate bill, created generous subsidies designed to stimulate the industry, it is now facing serious problems that lead several energy policy experts to expect the government will have to step in again to save the industry.
Developers are facing considerable issues attributable to inflationary pressure, supply chain backups and logistical issues. These problems have prompted numerous firms to attempt to renegotiate their agreed-upon rates with states and utilities, pay large fines to withdraw from contracts altogether or outright cancel their projects.
Ørsted, a Danish wind company with a major American presence, may have had the roughest 2023 of any firm in the industry. In October, the company announced that it had cancelled two of its major projects off the coast of New Jersey, citing the poor state of the wider economy and the associated impacts on the projects’ ability to be profitable in the long-term.
Meanwhile, the administration’s August offshore wind lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico underwhelmed, with only one of the three areas available attracting any interest from bidders.
Now, the Biden administration’s 2030 target appears to be firmly out of reach, largely because of the considerable financial challenges the industry faces, according to Reuters.
EV Dreams Show Cracks
Environmentalists and Biden administration officials are also pushing EVs as a key climate solution, with the latter spending billions of taxpayer dollars and aggressively regulating markets to reach its goal of having 50% of new vehicle sales be EVs by 2030. Despite these efforts, the EV market appears to be faltering: consumer demand is not growing as quickly as expected, manufacturers are losing large amounts of money on their EV product lines and executives are starting to back off of near-term EV commitments.
China dominates the global supply chain for the raw materials needed to manufacture EVs, and the vehicles are considerably more expensive on average than gas-powered equivalents. For example, the Ford F-150 Lighting, the EV version of one of America’s most popular cars, sells for about $8,000 more than the conventional F-150.
Beyond the higher costs, consumers tend to worry about the inconsistent performance and uneven geographical distribution of the nation’s charging infrastructure. Even Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm is not impervious to this problem, as one of her staffers raced ahead of her convoy during a summer road trip promoting EVs to reserve a spot at a Georgia charging station with a gas-powered car. The police were reportedly called when a family with a baby in tow grew angry that the staffer would not move for them to use the charging port, even though Granholm and the rest of the convoy had not yet arrived to plug in.
The past year also saw considerable layoffs at prominent eco-activist organizations, such as the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Defenders of Wildlife, according to E&E News. After the defeat of former President Donald Trump, whose energy agenda provided a boost to enthusiasm and donations supporting the environmentalist cause, many major environmentalist organizations faced considerable budget shortfalls.
The Sierra Club laid off dozens of employees starting in April, which prompted infighting over issues of race and “equity” within the organization in the ensuing months. NRDC similarly laid off dozens of its staffers later in the year, and Defenders of Wildlife laid off more than a dozen of its own employees in the spring as well, according to E&E News.
A Notable Bankruptcy
Proterra, an electric bus manufacturer, filed for bankruptcy in August. Prior to the bankruptcy, the Biden administration had promoted the company, a move which prompted blowback from elected Republicans and government watchdogs that highlighted Granholm maintained a financial interest in the firm after accepting a government job in which she would be overseeing policy that directly impacted the company’s commercial prospects.
Granholm did not sell her shares in the company until after the House Oversight Committee opened an investigation into the apparent conflict of interest earlier in May 2021. She eventually closed her position in the firm later that month, netting capital gains amounting to about $1.6 million.
Additionally, Granholm is alleged to have violated the STOCK Act nine times in 2021, a fact which a Department of Energy(DOE) spokesperson said at the time was attributable to “an inadvertent clerical oversight.”
Willow Project Campaign Comes Up Short
Activists launched a broad pressure campaign to goad the Biden administration into cancelling ConocoPhillips’ massive Willow Project in Alaska, which ultimately failed when the administration formally green lit the project in March. Many inside the climate movement were livid with the administration’s decision, characterizing it as a betrayal of a Biden campaign promise to severely crack down on oil and gas drilling on federally-controlled lands.
Recently, climate activists have set their sights on the Calcasieu Pass 2 project, known as CP2, which would be a major export terminal facility for liquefied natural gas (LNG) located to the south of Lake Charles, Louisiana. They appear poised to ratchet up pressure on the Biden administration to kill the project much like they did with the Willow Project, though time will tell whether or not such a campaign could be successful in its aims.
While the push to kill the Willow Project fell flat, Tommy Beaudreau, the former deputy secretary of the Department of the Interior, left the administration in October after activists targeted him constantly for his support of the Willow Project.
Trouble In The Loan Programs Office
The DOE’s Loan Programs Office (LPO) also had a tough 2023. The LPO is a key instrument in the Biden administration’s wider green energy push, designed to provide green energy companies with loans that the private sector would not offer, according to the office’s website.
The Daily Caller News Foundation reported in November that the LPO had reached a conditional commitment to provide Li-Cycle, a lithium battery recycling company, a $375 million loan at the same time that the firm was allegedly defrauding its investors. The LPO does due diligence on its applicants before reaching a conditional commitment, according to its website, meaning that the alleged securities fraud went unnoticed by the relevant LPO officials.
In September, the LPO also extended a $3 billion package to Sunnova, a solar company that allegedly preyed on elderly customers on their deathbeds by talking them into signing multi-decade, five-figure rooftop solar contracts, according to The Washington Free Beacon.
These loans have sparked demands from Republican lawmakers, who are seeking information and internal documents regarding the LPO’s internal practices and safeguards. Jigar Shah, who runs the LPO, was hauled into Congress to testify in front of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources in October, when Republican Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri and John Barrasso of Wyoming grilled him about his continued association with a green energy trade group despite potential appearances of ethical impropriety.
Neither the White House nor the DOE responded to the DCNF’s requests for comment.
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