By Lisa Friedman
The Biden administration on Tuesday will set out a strategy for buying “clean,” lower-emissions steel, cement, aluminum and other industrial materials for federal agencies and projects, part of its effort to reduce carbon emissions from industrial manufacturing.
The industrial sector is responsible for about one-third of the greenhouse gases produced by the United States — pollution that is helping to heat the planet to dangerous levels. White House officials said they would use federal purchasing power to encourage the industrial sector to develop low-carbon alternatives.
A new Buy Clean Task Force will be created to ensure federal agencies buy construction materials that are manufactured in a way that produces fewer emissions. The Energy Department will spend $9.5 billion to encourage the commercial-scale development of clean hydrogen, a zero-carbon alternative to natural gas that is currently expensive and complicated to produce. The White House on Tuesday will also issue new guidance on deploying technology that can capture pollution from sources like smokestacks or from the air and then permanently store it.
President Biden has made tackling climate change a top priority; he has pledged to cut the country’s emissions nearly in half from 2005 levels by the end of this decade. But his most important tool — billions of dollars in tax incentives to stimulate wind and solar energy and to speed the adoption of electric cars — is stalled in Congress. Later this year, the Supreme Court might restrict the government’s ability to regulate emissions in the power sector. And on Friday, a federal judge blocked the administration from using a tool to calculate the impact of climate change in creating federal rules.
Michael Greenstone, an economist at the University of Chicago, called the new policy moves targeting industrial emissions “bite-sized” — but said they were necessary in the absence of action from Congress.
“The country is now in a position where it must pursue climate change on a very thin reed,” Mr. Greenstone said.
But the Biden administration has run into problems trying to tackle climate change, even when it has the authority to do so. For example, the president has ordered federal agencies to phase out the purchase of gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035, but the United States Postal Service, an independent agency run by a board of governors, is defying that order by moving forward with the purchase of about 165,000 gas-powered trucks.