Nov 9, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Biden's climate plan will require creativity and persuasion

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Joe Biden's first remarks as president-elect Saturday claimed a mandate to act on climate. But making good will require tough lawyers, creativity, luck and persuasion.

The big picture: His new transition website puts climate among the four top priorities alongside COVID-19, the economy and racial justice.

  • But with Democrats facing long odds of winning the Senate, Biden won't get a sweeping climate bill unless the GOP posture changes radically and surprisingly.

Why it matters: That leaves Biden with a plan that's very aggressive — big goals include 100% carbon-free power by 2035 — but heavily reliant on executive powers.

Driving the news: Experts and advocates are quickly weighing in on what Biden should do with those powers and perhaps small openings to work with Congress.

Jason Bordoff, head of a Columbia University energy think tank, offers a primer in Foreign Policy magazine on the many things presidents can do without Congress, which of course includes regulations but also...

  • Expanding renewables leasing on public lands; using procurement (including the energy-thirsty military) to drive clean tech adoption; appointing Federal Energy Regulatory Commission members who will set market rules that favor low-carbon sources, and more.

Quick take: Here's where the creativity, luck, persuasion and lawyers come in.

  • His plans will require a creative government-wide approach, which means not just the usual actors like EPA, but also agencies like, say, HUD (more on that below).
  • Biden's going to face ferocious legal battles as he looks to use existing powers under the Clean Air Act and other laws to craft far-reaching rules and restrictions around vehicle emissions, public lands drilling and more.
  • On the persuasion front, the need for new economic recovery measures will provide some opportunities for working with Congress on clean energy and climate-friendly infrastructure support.
  • Also on the persuasion front, Bordoff (an Obama-era White House aide) says Biden can use the executive's foreign policy domain for things like promoting collaboration on clean energy trade and creating a multilateral agreement on methane emissions.

This Washington Post story gets to how Biden's plan will rely on looking government-wide for policy ideas...

  • "Biden’s advisers have said that they plan to elevate climate change as a priority in departments that have not always treated it as one, including the Transportation, State and Treasury departments."
  • "It will influence key appointments, affecting everything from overseas banking and military bases to domestic roads and farms."

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