“In the very beginning, we decided that we had to move on this. And we thought, cap-and-trade. But it got shut down, even when we had a Democratic Congress. So from that point on, the president has been trying to figure out how he can use his executive authority to make some real changes,” he said.
Cap-and-trade legislation collapsed on Capitol Hill in 2010, a time when the White House had invested far more political muscle into healthcare reform and other priorities.
Obama has signaled he will make climate change a priority during his second term and move forward with executive branch actions if climate legislation remains frozen in Congress, which many observers expect.
Biden, in the interview, said the administration made big strides on global warming during the first term. “The thing I'm proudest of that we were able to get done in the first term was the Recovery Act. It had $90 billion in clean-energy programs,” he said.
Biden also touted major increases in auto mileage standards, which are escalating over the next decade. The administration has completed rules that will force automakers to reach a fleetwide average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.
He acknowledges a preference for a major climate bill that would grant the administration new tools to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
“But it's been hard to get our arms around, with this Congress, what you know you should be doing. You should be attacking the carbon emissions, period, and whether it's cap-and-trade or carbon tax or whatever, that's the realm in which we should be playing,” Biden said.
Biden’s mention of a carbon tax arrives as a loose collection of climate activists and policy wonks is pushing the idea, but the measure faces a very steep uphill climb in Congress.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said last year that the White House won’t propose a carbon tax. Biden, asked about the prospect, also says the White House isn’t going to float the idea because it lacks political support.
“The truth is, right now, no, because we know it will go nowhere,” Biden said.
He said Obama has asked Biden to devote attention to joint efforts with other nations such as China, which has several existing green energy partnerships with the U.S., around natural gas and renewable energy.