Climate

What Joe Biden declaring a climate emergency would mean for tech

The Senate has once again failed to pass climate legislation. But the president has sweeping powers that could kickstart the clean energy revolution. He just needs to use them.

President Joe Biden points while wearing sunglasses and a blue shirt.

President Biden isn't ready to declare a climate emergency yet, but doing so would unlock serious powers.

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Joe Biden on Wednesday announced a suite of climate policies after the Senate basically left the Build Back Better agenda for dead. Not among them: declaring a climate emergency.

While the administration hasn't ruled out doing so in the future, for now the vast powers that could reshape the clean energy landscape will remain under lock and key. But should Biden decide to call climate change what it is — an emergency — and tap into those powers, it could have far-reaching ramifications for the tech industry (and society, of course).

We've arrived at this place because Sen. Joe Manchin and 50 Senate Republicans stonewalled Biden's climate legislative agenda. Manchin has now killed the Build Back Better Act twice. While he's left the door cracked to considering its climate pieces in September after seeing one more inflation report, the odds of the biggest recipient of fossil fuel money in Congress who also rakes in millions from his various coal holdings changing his mind, even if inflation improves, are slim. That a growing number of senators, including Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, are calling for Biden to use his authority to declare a climate emergency should also make it clear where things stand.

A climate emergency declaration could go a couple of ways. Biden could invoke narrower emergency powers, similar to what he did with the Defense Production Act and heat pumps, solar panels and critical minerals earlier this year. But he could also swing much bigger.

"He has both emergency and ordinary executive powers," Jean Su, a senior attorney and energy justice director at the Center for Biological Diversity, told Protocol. "Under a symbolic climate emergency declaration, he could actually map out a plan that includes both and get the best bang for an executive action buck."

Su was a lead author on a report that lays out a number of actions Biden could take. Among them are moves that would close the carbon pollution spigot by curtailing fossil fuel production and leasing on federal lands. But Biden could also direct a firehose of money at clean energy tech and bring together major players in the tech industry as partners in planning and purchasing.

On the money side, it may seem like the administration's hands are tied given that the Defense Production Act has a limited budget of $545 million, according to Bloomberg, and Biden has already tapped it for funding the aforementioned climate tech as well as dealing with the baby formula shortage. The solar industry's trade group called it a "down payment" at a time when we need to be buying the whole house in cash. Congress could kick more money to the DPA, but Su said that's not the only route the administration has at its disposal. Agencies can transfer money to the DPA, and Su said the $650 billion federal procurement budget could be a huge tool to wield in a climate emergency.

The administration has already committed to cutting the government's emissions 65% by 2030 and purchasing all zero-emissions light-duty vehicles by 2027. Following through on that with the budget and the DPA could use the government's massive purchasing power to buy clean energy, electric vehicles and energy-saving technology for buildings that would in turn bring down the cost for people across the country.

The Stafford Act, which gives the Federal Emergency Management Agency its walking orders, is another key tool Biden could employ. Right now, FEMA can implement resiliency projects before disaster hits and help build places back after. On the build-back front, though, the agency doesn't build back better. It builds back the same, meaning if a fossil fuel power plant gets knocked out by a hurricane, FEMA will spend millions rebuilding infrastructure that worsens the climate crisis.

Fixing that glaring oversight and allowing FEMA to rebuild energy infrastructure that's made for the 21st century — wind and solar farms, battery storage and rooftop and community solar — would suddenly free up billions more in funding for the clean energy transition. Given that poor communities of color are disproportionately impacted by climate disasters and spend an outsize portion of their money on energy bills, a FEMA that's focused on building back a clean energy system and efficient homes could also address huge environmental injustices.

The federal government by itself, let alone just the executive branch, isn't enough to get climate tech out in the wild. "I think this is a really key time for partnerships to be formed," Su said. "There are ways that we can also use the DPA to be partnered with private capital."

The tech industry could be a natural partner for the administration to do just that. Many tech companies have set aggressive climate goals and are already large purchasers of renewable energy. But a single company working toward net zero in a vacuum is about as useful as one person trying to row a cruise ship across the ocean.

The DPA allows the president to bring major players to the table to create a plan of action in a moment of crisis. Tech companies could bring their climate plans — the best of which contain yearly milestones for emissions reductions — and their finances to said table and chart a course.

"So can Google, can Apple, can they actually be the purchasing partners that the federal government can't be towards the new solar panels that they obviously need?" Su said, as one example of how the planning process could work.

There's already precedent for this: The Biden administration and a number of tech companies are members of the First Movers Coalition, which is trying to bring down the cost of carbon dioxide removal, green steel and other still-costly technologies and materials.

Though to truly align the administration's and tech companies' goals, Su said, labor and frontline communities should also be part of the planning process. The Biden administration has promised that 40% of all federal funding for climate and energy will be used to benefit environmental justice communities and talked up its support of the labor movement. Under the banner of a climate emergency, it's possible to imagine a company like, say, Amazon committing to buying a tranche of electric delivery vehicles and organized labor playing a role in fulfilling that order, or disadvantaged communities in Florida receiving grants to install rooftop solar.

Su said that with legislation dead, meeting the Biden administration's climate target will require more creative thinking and urgency than we've seen so far. But, she said, that's no reason not to "move as fast as possible, especially before midterms so we can see some progress."

Climate

How GM plans to make its ambitious EV goals reality

The automaker's chief sustainability officer is optimistic that GM is well-positioned to rapidly scale up the EV side of its business.

"I think everything that’s been put in place to support the transition will be a real positive for the industry and for the country."

Photo: Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Automakers are on the cusp of an entirely new era.

The transition to electric vehicles is quickly becoming more than just theoretical: More models are coming onto the scene every day. This week, the Inflation Reduction Act was signed into law, enshrining a new structure for EV tax credits and offering a boost to domestic critical mineral mining. The transition isn’t coming a moment too soon, given that the transportation sector makes up the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.

Keep Reading Show less
Lisa Martine Jenkins

Lisa Martine Jenkins is a senior reporter at Protocol covering climate. Lisa previously wrote for Morning Consult, Chemical Watch and the Associated Press. Lisa is currently based in Brooklyn, and is originally from the Bay Area. Find her on Twitter ( @l_m_j_) or reach out via email (ljenkins@protocol.com).

As management teams at financial institutions look for best practices to make part of their regular toolkit, they are reaching most for the ones that increase the speed and reduce the risk of large-scale change.

That forward-thinking approach can lead financial institutions to leverage AI technology, which can help give decision-makers trusted tools to solve integral challenges vital to the health of the business. One of the leading providers of AI and machine-learning software, DataRobot continues to attract clients in financial services who want to de-risk their AI investments and rapidly scale AI to almost every part of their operations, resulting in improved productivity and higher customer satisfaction.

Keep Reading Show less
David Silverberg
David Silverberg is a Toronto-based freelance journalist, editor and writing coach. He writes for The Washington Post, BBC News, Business Insider, The Toronto Star, New Scientist, Fodor's, and several alumni magazines. He also writes for brands such as 23andme, Shopify and Bold Commerce. He has served as editor of B2B News Network, Canada's only B2B news magazine, and Digital Journal, a leading pioneer in citizen journalism. Find more about him at www.davidsilverberg.ca
Entertainment

How Embracer Group bought ‘Lord of the Rings’ rights for a bargain

The Swedish holding company, known best for its gaming acquisitions, bought the rights to “The Lord of the Rings.” But the deal is much more complicated than it seems.

Who really owns LOTR's rights?

Photo: New Line/WireImage

A new stakeholder has entered the complex licensing web of “The Lord of the Rings,” and the landmark deal has further complicated the already messy media empire surrounding author J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy epic.

The buyer, the acquisition-hungry Swedish gaming conglomerate known as Embracer Group, has purchased Middle-earth Enterprises, and with it the associated film, video game, board game, merchandise, theater production and theme park rights to the core LOTR book trilogy and “The Hobbit'' from its previous owner, The Saul Zaentz Company. Formerly Tolkien Enterprises, Zaentz’s holding group has held onto the rights since purchasing them from United Artists in 1976. (Tolkien initially sold them to UA in 1969, four years before his death.)

Keep Reading Show less
Nick Statt

Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at nstatt@protocol.com.

Fintech

Upstart has a new plan to sell Wall Street on its loans

The AI-powered lender will hold some loans on its balance sheet as it seeks partners for long-term capital.

Despite the current struggles, Upstart views the marketplace model as the best way to write to keep its loan business growing.

Photo: Upstart

After a revenue drop its CEO called “unacceptable,” the leadership at fintech lender Upstart is making a bet on the strength of its ability to underwrite loans with AI.

The San Mateo company is planning to leave some loans on its balance sheet that investors do not want to buy, as concerns about the economy shift Wall Street away from backing riskier consumer debt. Rather than pull back on its lending in response, the company said it will hold some loans as it seeks longer-term capital partners.

Keep Reading Show less
Ryan Deffenbaugh
Ryan Deffenbaugh is a reporter at Protocol focused on fintech. Before joining Protocol, he reported on New York's technology industry for Crain's New York Business. He is based in New York and can be reached at rdeffenbaugh@protocol.com.
Enterprise

Does your boss sound a little funny? It might be an audio deepfake

Voice deepfake attacks against enterprises, often aimed at tricking corporate employees into transferring money to the attackers, are on the rise. And at least in some cases, they’re succeeding.

Audio deepfakes are a new spin on the impersonation tactics that have long been used in social engineering and phishing attacks, but most people aren’t trained to disbelieve their ears.

Illustration: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

As a cyberattack investigator, Nick Giacopuzzi’s work now includes responding to growing attacks against businesses that involve deepfaked voices — and has ultimately left him convinced that in today's world, "we need to question everything."

In particular, Giacopuzzi has investigated multiple incidents where an attacker deployed fabricated audio, created with the help of AI, that purported to be an executive or a manager at a company. You can guess how it went: The fake boss asked an employee to urgently transfer funds. And in some cases, it’s worked, he said.

Keep Reading Show less
Kyle Alspach

Kyle Alspach ( @KyleAlspach) is a senior reporter at Protocol, focused on cybersecurity. He has covered the tech industry since 2010 for outlets including VentureBeat, CRN and the Boston Globe. He lives in Portland, Oregon, and can be reached at kalspach@protocol.com.

Latest Stories
Bulletins