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Photo: Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The Biden administration's nominee to run the Commerce Department isn't ruling out the use of existing powers to impose climate-related trade restrictions.

Driving the news: GOP Sen. Ted Cruz asked Gina Raimondo about imposing "carbon tariffs" under existing law.

Raimondo responded to the written question — part of the Senate Commerce Committee's vetting — like this:

  • "I intend to work closely with Congress on the issue of climate change and can commit to use the tools available under the law and work with our interagency partners and other stakeholders to implement the Administration’s environmental policies, as appropriate."

Why it matters: One tricky thing in climate policy is how to ensure industries in countries that impose emissions-cutting rules — which Biden is planning — don't face a competitive disadvantage.

  • Biden's platform vowed "carbon adjustment fees or quotas on carbon-intensive goods from countries that are failing to meet their climate...obligations."
  • Such trade measures could also avoid simply moving emissions from place to place.

Yes, but: Biden's platform doesn't say whether he'd seek legislation for the policy.

  • Kevin Book, managing director of the research firm ClearView Energy Partners, said Biden may have an avenue to proceed using executive power.
  • “Biden made climate a national security issue on the second climate executive order and, although we don’t yet expect it, Section 232 [of the Trade Expansion Act] allows Presidential import tariffs for national security reasons," he said.

Where it stands: The Commerce Committee voted 12-3 yesterday to advance Raimondo's nomination to the full Senate.

Go deeper

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Feb 3, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Pandemic temporarily warmed the climate

The I-5 freeway in Los Angeles is all but empty during an initial coronavirus lockdown in April 2020. Photo: Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images

A recently released study finds that curtailed societal activity during the early stages of the pandemic also reduced emissions of pollutants that usually act to cool the climate.

The big picture: Coronavirus measures helped lead to a sharp, if temporary, reduction in greenhouse gases, but some other pollutants actually act to cool the climate — and with emissions of those significantly reduced as well, the climate warmed for a few months.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Feb 3, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Analysis: Waiting to cut emissions will ultimately make it more expensive

Adapted from an Energy Innovation report; Chart: Axios Visuals

Putting U.S. carbon emissions on a steep downward path would cost plenty of money. But waiting to act is way more expensive, a new analysis out this morning concludes.

Driving the news: The research firm Energy Innovation modeled two policy scenarios for reaching net-zero emissions by 2050, a common target for limiting the amount of future warming.

Updated Feb 2, 2021 - Axios Events

Watch: A conversation on corporate America's climate impact

On Tuesday, February 2, Axios' Mike Allen, Ben Geman, and Aja Whitaker-Moore hosted a conversation on corporate America’s climate impact following the World Economic Forum’s Davos Agenda, featuring Microsoft's Chief Environmental Officer Lucas Joppa and The Rockefeller Foundation President Rajiv Shah.

Rajiv Shah discussed increasing global inequities as a result of the pandemic, and how these economic divides can be crossed with respect to energy and climate change policies.

  • On the growing gap between the world's wealthy and poor: "COVID-19 is an accelerant of that [economic] divergence. We're now living through the greatest divergence we've seen since World War II and the living standards of people and inequality and inequity as a result of that."
  • On how corporate America has stepped up their commitment to climate change initiatives: "It is going to take much more than a series of corporate commitments to get to net neutrality by 2050. And in fact, I'm optimistic because I've seen companies since [the beginning of 2020] do more."

Lucas Joppa unpacked climate change commitments within the private sector, and how companies have the potential to collectively create change.

  • On the progress Microsoft has made around reducing carbon emissions: "A year ago we committed that by 2030, we'd reduce our emissions by half or more and remove the rest. Over the past calendar year...if we keep on track, we'll see us meeting or achieving our commitments."
  • On setting an example as a large company and modeling scalable solutions: "It's incumbent upon [Microsoft] to do more, but it's also incumbent that we do more in a way that makes it easier for everybody to follow. We know with carbon reduction and carbon removal there's a lot of market maturation and a lot of other societal scale changes that need to happen [around it]."

Thank you Bank of America for sponsoring this event.