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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

In Congress and on the presidential campaign trail, America is gearing up to tussle over big climate-change policy for the first time in nearly a decade. But what this actually means is up for massive interpretation.

Why it matters: How Washington considers tackling this problem, whether through a tax, regulations and/or something else, would affect almost every swath of the country and reverberate around the world.

The big picture: Everything old is new again. Most ideas floating around are actually adapted versions of proposals Washington has pursued before. At the heart of any climate policy is this tough task: Make fossil fuels more expensive without hitting American pocketbooks too much, and/or making cleaner energy technologies cheaper.

Regulations and mandates

The popular-but-vague Green New Deal championed by Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez probably fits in best here, judging by what we know about it now.

A draft legislative document lists numerous lofty goals, including:

  • 100% renewable electricity within 10 years (up from 17% today).
  • Upgrading all buildings to be more energy efficient.
  • Eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from sectors like manufacturing and agriculture.

But the document doesn’t say how they would occur. They would probably require, first and foremost, more regulations and mandates. That’s how Washington has conducted many of its biggest energy and environmental policies to date, including Energy Department efficiency standards and the renewable fuel standard.

Modeled after Franklin Roosevelt’s original New Deal, the Green New Deal is far larger in scope than what’s been done in recent history. It includes progressive policies as far-reaching as universal health care and a federal jobs guarantee.

Carbon tax and dividend

This is the other climate policy emerging in Washington in recent months. Economists, oil companies, Republicans and some environmental groups are getting on board, even as progressive politicians (and most of the media) focus on the Green New Deal.

Under this policy, the government would tax carbon dioxide emissions and send money back to Americans in the form of dividend checks.

  • At least three different bills featured this policy when Congress tackled climate policy a decade ago.
  • Today’s version and the earlier ones differ on important details, including how much money is rebated back and whether climate-change-related regulations are preempted.

But the basic idea is the same: Try to change business behavior by making fossil fuels more expensive while simultaneously shielding average Americans.

Subsidies

The opposite of a tax is a subsidy, where the federal government seeks to encourage behavior by giving money or providing specific tax deductions to projects or initiatives.

Because taxes are politically unpopular, politicians have often opted for subsidies, even though economists and many energy executives consider them less efficient than a tax.

Examples abound:

  • The massive stimulus law Washington passed in response to the 2008 economic crash included various kinds of subsidies for clean energy, totaling some $90 billion.
  • Temporary tax credits for wind and solar projects, as well as buyers of electric cars.
  • A slew of permanent tax breaks for oil companies.

While Congress passed legislation last year expanding tax credits for technologies capturing carbon dioxide emissions, I don’t anticipate a big appetite for lawmakers to create new subsidies.

Cap and trade

This is the policy the House passed a decade ago that died in the Senate a year later due to several factors, including lack of support from key Republicans and even some Democrats.

Cap and trade is a market-based system where the government caps the amount of emissions (in this case greenhouse gases) and creates a trading system.

  • Companies can buy and sell credits of emissions to comply, which often makes it more flexible than a tax.
  • The end result is the same though: lowering emissions while trying to minimize costs.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has indicated she might revive the bill from a decade ago, but for now the least amount of momentum is behind this kind of policy.

All or some of the above

This is self-explanatory but important to mention. Debate is often black and white, but reality isn’t. Any policy, particularly the Green New Deal with its sweeping narrative, would likely combine a few of these different levers.

What’s next: While the basic policies addressing climate change haven’t changed much in the last decade, the underlying political environment is changing. It’s now more conducive to climate action for a few reasons:

The bottom line: Whether things have changed enough for any of these new old ideas to pass the legislative finish line amid deep political polarization is an open question.

What else do you want explained via an Axios primer? Email me at amy@axios.com.

Go deeper:

Democrats' left turn on climate change

Want to tax carbon emissions? Just don't call it a tax

Energy and climate glossary for Trump (and everyone)

Go deeper

Updated 52 mins ago - Sports

Swimmer Chase Kalisz first American to win Tokyo Olympics gold medal

Chase Kalisz of Team United States celebrates after winning the Men's 400m Individual Medley Final on day two of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre in Tokyo, Japan. Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images

Swimmer Chase Kalisz has become the first Team United States Olympian to win gold at the Tokyo Games.

The big picture: The Rio 2016 silver medalist's winning time in the men's 400 meters Individual Medley Final was 4 minutes 9.42 seconds. His teammate Jay Litherland took silver, .86 seconds behind him. Moments later, Kieran Smith grabbed a third medal for the U.S. when he won bronze in the 400-meter freestyle.

Go deeper: Full Axios coverage

Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

DOJ won't investigate nursing home deaths in N.Y. and 2 other states

People who've lost loved ones due to COVID-19 while they were in New York nursing homes attend a March protest and vigil in New York City. As of this month, Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The Department of Justice has decided not to launch a civil rights investigation into whether policies in New York, Pennsylvania and Michigan contributed to pandemic deaths in nursing homes, according to a letter sent to Republicans.

Why it matters: The Trump DOJ requested data from the three states plus New Jersey last August "amid still-unanswered questions about whether some states, especially New York, inadvertently worsened the pandemic death toll by requiring nursing homes to accept residents previously hospitalized for COVID-19," per AP.

Former Blizzard CEO says he "failed” women at the studio

Image: Neville Elder / Getty Images

Mike Morhaime, who co-founded and worked at video game studio Blizzard for 28 years, has apologized publicly for toxic work conditions at his former studio, which is now the subject of a discrimination and harassment lawsuit by the state of California.

Why it matters: Morhaime is no longer at Blizzard, but was its leader for most of its existence and therefore was in charge when much of what is alleged in California’s suit would have occurred.