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Europe backs off climate push as voters rebel — will Biden take note?

Europe is beginning to back off its aggressive carbon-zero policies. Why? Because consumers are balking. European Union administrators have gone too far, too fast, and the citizens of France, Germany and the Netherlands, among others, have had enough.

There is a lesson here for President Biden. Unfortunately, he and his White House climate zealots are unlikely to learn from what is going on across the Atlantic.

Ironically, it is the French Green Party that most recently tried to block plans pushed by the European Parliament to put a carbon tax on fuel used in heating and transport. Its members fear that the measure will reignite the protests of the Gilets Jaunes, the yellow vest group that emerged overnight to oppose a proposed carbon tax on diesel fuel and whose protests all but shut down France. It is not that the Greens have gotten realistic about the need for oil and gas as a bridge fuel, or have suddenly recognized the economic risks of betting on unreliable renewable fuels; rather, they worry that, as one legislator put it, “in a few years’ time, people will hate climate policies. People will go to the far-right parties.”

The proposal to force businesses to buy emissions allowances on fuel and heating would increase household costs by an estimated 50 percent — too much to be politically acceptable. Nonetheless, the EU Parliament approved the measure, which will not go into effect until 2027 and could be postponed if energy prices increase.

The squabble is a follow-on to the German government’s fight against the EU’s proposed restrictions on auto emissions, which would essentially ban the sale of new cars with internal combustion engines after 2035. Similar to Biden’s recent tailpipe emissions diktat, which would squash sales of gasoline-powered cars in the same time frame, the EU wants to force automakers to reduce new car emissions 55 percent by 2030 compared to 2021 levels and 100 percent by 2035.

In Holland, meanwhile, the government’s proposal to force a significant portion of the country’s livestock farmers out of business (and reduce the number of cows, pigs and chickens in the nation by one-third) to lower nitrogen emissions led to riots last summer. It also led to a surge in the popularity of the nascent Farmer-Citizen Movement, which came from nowhere to win 15 seats in the upper house of the Dutch national parliament last month, putting the populist group on par with other important voting blocks.

Here at home, as it barrels toward a fanciful green economy devoid of gasoline-powered cars, the Biden White House is ignoring polling that shows decidedly tepid enthusiasm for electric vehicles.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently issued a new directive on tailpipe emissions that would effectively require that 67 percent of new cars and light pickup trucks and 46 percent of medium-duty trucks sold in the United States by 2032 be all-electric. This goal is a significant step up from Biden’s earlier target of 50 percent new cars being EVs by 2030 and would require a massive investment by automakers; it would also require a monster build-out of our electric grid, significant expansion of available battery materials and huge number of new charging stations. Last year fewer than 6 percent of all new cars were electric; the proposal is so extreme that he faces serious push-back even from his pals in Big Labor.   

According to The New York Times, the stricter emissions standards were originally to be rolled out in Detroit, home to the U.S. auto industry, but pushback from the United Auto Workers was such that the announcement was moved to EPA headquarters in Washington, and boycotted by union reps.  

It’s no wonder. Manufacturing an electric vehicle requires fewer than half the number of workers that are required to produce an internal combustion engine. Not only will the industry’s workforce shrink as car makers switch to EVs, but most of the new plants making the electric cars and batteries are located in right-to-work states, where the costs are lower.  

Why would Joe Biden put his excellent relations with organized labor at risk? Because desperate times call for desperate measures. President Biden wants very much to run for a second term, but he’s buried under low approval ratings and a darkening economic outlook. He is desperate for a win.

That’s why he’s doubling down on policies that he and his managers think appeal to groups absolutely critical to his campaign: climate activists and young voters. A poll last summer showed a shocking 94 percent of voters between the ages of 18-29 wanted someone other than Biden to be the Democratic nominee in 2024. That reading lit a fire under Biden’s camp, prompting, among other things, a renewed push to cancel student loan debt, even though his program would cost an estimated $450 billion and has been criticized as unfair to the majority of Americans who do not attend college or who have already paid off their student loans.

In seeking the youth vote, climate is key. A recent Economist poll shows climate to be one of the top three issues for people under the age of 29; for no other age group does it rank so high. But the effort to win over environmentalists is not only an appeal to Gen X — it is also about money. The 2020 election established climate activists as a significant new source of Democrat funding, contributing some $50 million to Biden’s campaign. Joe needs that backing.

Biden especially needs to re-energize climate voters since he did the unthinkable and allowed Chevron to drill on Alaska’s North Slope. Greenlighting the Big Willow project breached the president’s campaign promise to halt drilling on federal lands and marred his almost perfect anti-oil record.

Before Biden proceeds further down the new green road, he should consider that his aggressive (some say impossible) and expensive proposals could cost the climate effort significant popular support. It is happening in Europe, and it could happen here.

Liz Peek is a former partner of major bracket Wall Street firm Wertheim & Company.

Tags 2024 presidential election auto emissions Carbon tax Climate change Electric vehicles European Union Joe Biden

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File - A Chevrolet Bolt is displayed at the Philadelphia Auto Show, Jan. 27, 2023, in Philadelphia. Electric vehicles are far less reliable than gasoline-powered cars, trucks and SUVs, mainly because most automakers are still learning how to build a completely new power system, according to this year's auto reliability survey by Consumer Reports.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
File - A Chevrolet Bolt is displayed at the Philadelphia Auto Show, Jan. 27, 2023, in Philadelphia. Electric vehicles are far less reliable than gasoline-powered cars, trucks and SUVs, mainly because most automakers are still learning how to build a completely new power system, according to this year's auto reliability survey by Consumer Reports.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

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In this photo released by the Governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev telegram channel, a rescuer gestures as he helps people during an evacuation after storm and flooding in Sevastopol, Crimea, Monday, Nov. 27, 2023. A storm in the Black Sea took down power grids and left almost half a million people without power after it flooded roads, ripped up trees and damaged buildings in Crimea, Russian state news agency Tass said. (Governor of Sevastopol Mikhail Razvozhayev's telegram channel via AP)
In this photo released by the Governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev telegram channel, a rescuer gestures as he helps people during an evacuation after storm and flooding in Sevastopol, Crimea, Monday, Nov. 27, 2023. A storm in the Black Sea took down power grids and left almost half a million people without power after it flooded roads, ripped up trees and damaged buildings in Crimea, Russian state news agency Tass said. (Governor of Sevastopol Mikhail Razvozhayev's telegram channel via AP)

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