Biden administration promises extensive action on climate change, effects on Columbia uncertain

Local environmental organizations share their thoughts on Biden’s environmental policy and how it may impact the Columbia area.

By Teagan King

Less than a month into his presidency, President Joe Biden has already begun acting on his promises to address climate change. Some local environmentalist groups say the federal effort may not reach as far as Columbia.

A main component of Biden’s campaign was his environmental policy. As part of this policy, he promised to “make a $2 trillion accelerated investment, with a plan to deploy those resources over his first term.”

Much of this plan has to deal with making wide-reaching changes to the U.S. energy industry. For example, Biden hopes to help the US “achieve a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035,” and reach a “100% clean energy economy and … net-zero emissions no later than 2050.”

The City of Columbia’s Climate Action and Adaptation Plan resembles these tenets of Biden’s plan; however, the CAAP’s goals are slightly less ambitious. Mark Haim, director of Mid-Missouri Peaceworks, said they should be altered in the future.

“We appreciate that Biden has come up with some goals,” Haim said. “Some of those goals are not as ambitious as we would like, but they are steps in the right direction.”

He and his group hold a similar view of Columbia’s sustainability plans.

He referenced Columbia’s goal of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2060, but said that it should take place sooner and would have to be adjusted to 2050 if Biden’s plan is enacted.

According to the CAAP, their goals are “to make Columbia carbon neutral by 2060 and to ​prepare our community for both sudden and gradual climate-fueled changes” as well as to reduce community-wide emissions 80% by 2050 and ultimately 100% by 2060​.

Haim also said that his group was critical of some of the misleading language in Biden’s plan of doubling offshore wind energy production by 2030. The United States already gets little energy from offshore wind, so Haim says this goal is not as impressive as it may sound.

He also criticized Biden’s decision to revoke the construction permit for the Keystone XL pipeline because he failed to speak out against other significant pipeline projects in the country concerning environmentalists.

A large concern for Haim’s Peaceworks is a lack of cooperation from Congress and Missouri’s government, citing state representatives resistant to climate change regulations.

“We’re not going to see, in the near term, much of anything good coming out of Jefferson City,” Haim said. “Jefferson City is dominated by deniers and … narrow-minded people who lack a real sense of what we’re facing.”

Mid-Missouri Peaceworks has met with members of Congress like Rep. Vicky Hartzler, Sen. Roy Blunt and Sen. Josh Hawley, though they have generally been uncooperative with their organization.

“We’ve got a ton of work to do educating the public,” Haim said. “Unfortunately, educating our congressional delegation is an extremely frustrating process.”

Rory Butler, president of MU’s nonpartisan Climate Leaders At Mizzou, held a similar belief of cooperation from the Missouri state government.

“Undoubtedly, the university gets much more pressure about what they should or should not do from the Missouri State Capitol … than the federal government,” Butler said. However, he did not believe there would be any environmental legislation in the near future coming out of the Missouri Capitol, likely causing a lack of action from Mizzou regarding environmental policies.

As a result, instead of engaging in the Biden administration’s environmental policies, CLAM will likely continue encouraging people to think about climate change more often and pressuring MU to divest its endowment from fossil fuels.

The university’s endowment pool has a fundraising goal of $1.3 billion, part of which is invested in fossil fuel companies despite student and community demands to invest that money elsewhere.

Butler said that “by having money invested in fossil fuels, Mizzou is sending a different message” than Biden’s plan for renewable energy and the role he hopes it will play in the economy.

Columbia also continues to rely on fossil fuels. The City of Columbia Water & Light 2019 Renewable Energy Report said that the city produced 196,361 megawatt hours of renewable energy in 2018, or 15.67% of Columbia's energy system.

Haim expressed concern about when the city would move away from fossil fuels, as Peaceworks are still waiting on Biden’s complete budget plan and Columbia’s Electric Integrated Resource and Master Plan.

The Electric Integrated Resource and Master Plan was created “to determine the electric energy and capacity requirements of the City of Columbia as a whole” and to examine costs and benefits of converting several energy sources to alternative options. However, no results from this plan are readily available yet, posing a challenge to determining the future of renewable energy for the city.

Despite not expecting many of Biden's policies to manifest in Columbia, both Mid-Missouri Peaceworks and CLAM plan to continue their work to raise awareness of and call for action against climate change.

However, Haim also expressed some optimism regarding the future of climate change action under Biden.

“There’s a lot of initiatives that Biden is starting that could have very good outcomes if you get the country behind it.”

Edited by Joy Mazur and Emmet Jamieson | jmazur@themaneater.com and ejamieson@themaneater.com

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