Biden Can Bypass A Reluctant Congress To Enact Climate Crisis Policy

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US President-elect Joe Biden was swept into office by an overwhelming number of voters who support climate action. No, his climate crisis policy won’t be called a Green New Deal, due to the Deal’s demonizing by Republican strategists. Biden can tackle ambitious energy transformations, however, alongside the mandate to create good union jobs. Climate action policies outlined on the Biden-Harris transition website are “dramatic cost reductions in critical clean energy technologies, including battery storage, negative emissions technologies, the next generation of building materials,” and others. Cleantech companies are poised to expand in the US marketplace, and early stage clean technology startups are ready to begin.

climate crisis policy
Photo by Carolyn Fortuna, CleanTechnica

“The impacts of climate change don’t pick and choose. That’s because it’s not a partisan phenomenon. It’s science. And our response should be the same. Grounded in science. Acting together. All of us,” Biden emphasized in a late campaign speech. “These are concrete, actionable policies that create jobs, mitigate climate change, and put our nation on the road to net-zero emissions by no later than 2050. We can invest in our infrastructure to make it stronger and more resilient, while at the same time tackling the root causes of climate change.”

President-elect Joe Biden has outlined a bold climate crisis policy agenda — the US will rejoin the Paris climate agreement and transition the country from fossil fuels to clean energy via green jobs. That’s in keeping with Mark Jacobson’s analysis that a combination of wind, water, and solar needs less energy, costs less, and creates more jobs than current energy. Everything from green retrofits to the deployment of distributed renewable energy will help local economies become more resilient but will especially improve the quality of life in those communities that have been on the frontline of climate change.

A clean energy future powered by 100% renewables is within reach, if predictive data included in a doc from Environment America called “Renewables on the Rise 2020” become a reality. Wind and solar energy apparatus are now everyday parts of the US energy landscape — the US produces almost 4 times as much renewable electricity from the sun and wind as it did in 2010.

Biden’s climate crisis polices are likely to resemble many parts of the European Green Deal, with goals for a climate neutral economy by 2050 and well-being and prosperity through cleaner air and water, improved health, and a boost for the natural world. On its way to 2050, the EU will reduce greenhouse gas emissions 50–55% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels.

An Energy Who’s Who Will Prepare the Biden-Harris Transition

Here is a list of agency review teams who will be responsible for preparing Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris about energy possibilities at the start of their administration.

Department of Energy:

  • Arun Majumdar, team leader, co-director of Stanford University’s Precourt Institute for Energy and founding director of the DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy
  • Jonathan Elkind, a senior research scholar at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy
  • Noah Deich, executive director of the nonprofit Carbon180, which is seeking to transform carbon into an asset
  • Brad Markell, executive director of the AFL-CIO Industrial Union Council and chair of the AFL-CIO energy task force

Environmental Protection Agency:

  • Patrice Simms, team leader, vice president for healthy communities at the environmental law and advocacy group Earthjustice
  • Joe Goffman, the executive director of Harvard’s Environmental and Energy Law Program, former general counsel in the Obama EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation
  • Cynthia Giles, who previously served as assistant administrator in the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance

Department of the Interior:

  • Kevin Washburn, team leader, who served as Interior Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs under Obama
  • Janie Simms Hipp, CEO of the Native American Agriculture Fund
  • Bret Birdsong, a law professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who has called for restoring the size of the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah, which President Donald Trump significantly reduced in 2017

Republicans Foreshadow Reluctance to Support Biden’s Climate Crisis Policy

The Federal Reserve on Monday for the first time formally highlighted climate change as a potential threat to the stability of the financial system and said it is working to better understand that danger, as reported by Politico. In its semiannual report on financial stability, the Fed said it would be helpful for financial firms to provide more information about how their investments could be affected by frequent and severe weather and could improve the pricing of climate risks, “thereby reducing the probability of sudden changes in asset prices.”

Not surprisingly, though, the Republicans aren’t budging.

“I think people are saying that conservative principles still account for a majority of public opinion in our country,” Romney opined on Meet the Press on 11.08.2020. “I don’t think they want to sign up for a Green New Deal. I don’t think they want to sign up for getting rid of coal or oil or gas.”

Romney’s comments are a shade more direct than those of Dan Brouillette, the Secretary of Energy for the US who spoke to the IEA Clean Energy Transitions Summit on July 9 about how the US favors an “all of the above” strategy when it comes to formulating energy policies for the future.

Sure, many fossil fuel companies and their paid-for legislators continue to hang onto an in-your-face stance that the global energy demand for oil will rebound after covid-19. They are holding fast to beliefs that the climate change policy moves of governments around the world will be more methodical than meteoric, more cautious than critical.

What many Republicans tend not to acknowledge is that financial institutions have begun the long overdue process of restricting oil and gas funding. In 2020 alone, there has been a 50% drop in Standard & Poor’s S&P Oil & Gas Exploration & Production Select Industry Index, a tracker measuring the performance of oil and gas exploration plus production companies.

California’s climate policy executive order issued this autumn requires that new cars sold in California be zero-emission by 2035. The executive order also has language “to protect the health and safety of our communities and workers the state must focus on the impacts of oil extraction as it transitions away from fossil fuel, by working to end the issuance of new hydraulic fracturing permits by 2024.” Senator Scott Wiener and Assembly members Robert Rivas and Monique Limon announced plans to introduce such legislation in the coming year.

Biden Climate Crisis Policy: Short, Medium, & Long Term Goals

What kind of timeline will the Biden-Harris climate action policy initiatives take?

Short term, “shovel-ready” projects:

  • environmental retrofits and building upgrades
  • repairing and upgrading water systems and electricity grids
  • providing more manufacturing incentives for electric vehicles
  • potentially boosting money for environmental remediation and reclamation projects

Medium- and longer-term goals, which require more time:

  • projects to finance development, workforce training, and reskilling to prepare a labor force for a different kind of labor market
  • public-private partnerships that could also be employed in the climate space — especially in areas that will be hardest hit by the transition away from coal
  • farm subsidies of $46 billion under the Trump administration could be converted to “carbon farming”
  • grid and utility infrastructure, which could be a boost for technology companies

That last goal is very important. Some of the nation’s largest utilities are already working to phase out fossil fuel-based power generation. Most private utilities are owned by multi-state holding companies with a legal obligation to focus on returns to investors. Utilities are increasingly investing in renewable energy at the utility-scale because it is the most affordable source of electricity generation, squeezing out natural gas as the preferred choice for new electricity generation.

Final Thoughts on Biden Climate Crisis Policy Initiatives

The Biden Plan for a Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice notes that the US needs to embrace “greater ambition on an epic scale” to meet the scope of the climate challenge and acknowledges that the environment and the US economy are unalterably connected. “Getting to a 100% clean energy economy is not only an obligation, it’s an opportunity. We should fully adopt a clean energy future, not just for all of us today, but for our children and grandchildren, so their tomorrow is healthier, safer, and more just.”

Right now, climate campaigners are mobilizing voters in Georgia runoff elections for 2 US Senate seats, which could make all the difference to President-elect Biden’s efficacy in producing climate policy. Between 2017 and 2019, Georgia experienced 4 tropical cyclones, 6 severe storms, 1 winter storm, and 1 freeze, leading to economic damage of at least $1 billion, according to the Center for American Progress.

Let’s hope that Georgian votes make the same connection that Biden has between the environment and economy. We all will benefit. If not, Biden will turn to the states, courts, and executive orders to address overdue climate policy needs.

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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna (they, them), Ph.D., is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavy Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a Model Y as well as a Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.

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