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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Joe Biden is unlikely to pursue a carbon tax if he wins in November, according to several people familiar with his campaign's thinking.

Driving the news: The campaign said last year it supported a price on carbon emissions, but it has since released policies that embody government mandates, investments and job creation amid the pandemic-induced recession.

What they’re saying: The campaign’s positioning reflects the Democratic Party’s overall movement away from a carbon price and a new focus on economic recovery and equality, say people following the presidential nominee’s positions.

  • “The [climate] community has largely moved into a different framework,” said John Podesta, a longtime Democratic political operative who has advised the last two Democratic presidents.
  • “A real disadvantage of just a pricing scheme is you can’t directly attack the environmental injustice problem,” said Podesta, who is in regular contact with the Biden campaign. “In contrast, Biden has proposed that 40% of the [clean energy] investments go to distressed communities.”
  • “I don’t think the campaign is going to push this,” said another person familiar with the positioning on a carbon tax. “I think it’s almost always the right policy except in a recession or coming out of a recession.”

For the record: Biden campaign spokesperson Matt Hill declined to comment. Public information about the nominee’s positions compel some reading between the lines.

  • The campaign’s June 2019 plan includes language calling on Congress to create an “enforcement mechanism” to cut carbon emissions, which at the time the campaign said indicated a carbon price.
  • Its July plan, which is meant to complement the earlier draft, doesn’t repeat that language but does include a clean-electricity standard, which could impose an implicit price on electricity emissions.

The big picture: Most economists and businesses support an explicit carbon price over standards or other policies. They argue it’s the most straightforward and predictable way to cut heat-trapping emissions.

  • But many politicians in the Democratic Party and climate activists have moved away from supporting a carbon price as a core policy over the last couple years, arguing that, compared to mandates and regulations, a market-based approach can’t guarantee the steep emission reductions scientists say are now needed to address climate change.
  • (Some Republicans have begun to speak more favorably of acting on climate change, but their proposals are far narrower than a carbon tax.)

The other side: A growing list of corporations and lobbying interests have poured money into carbon tax campaigns on Capitol Hill in recent years, but these efforts have not produced public results.

  • The Climate Leadership Council, a coalition founded in February 2017, and a related lobbying effort launched in 2018 are pushing a carbon price whose funds go back to all Americans via dividend checks. Numerous corporations, including big oil companies, are supportive, as are former top Republican leaders and environmental groups.
  • The group said early this year the Senate would introduce a bipartisan version of its plan by mid-year, but now it’s eyeing next year, according to Greg Bertelsen, executive vice president of the group.

What we’re watching: If Democrats take control of the Senate, its leaders could pursue a carbon tax, opening up a narrow path for congressional bargaining that Biden could back as president.

  • Sen. Richard Durbin, the Senate’s second-top ranking Democrat, introduced a carbon price bill in June, though it wouldn’t impose the tax until after the recession (though no later than 2023).

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Nov 25, 2020 - Energy & Environment

A power giant's $190 billion push for cleaner future

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Enel Group, the Italy-based global power giant, is planning to spend $190 billion over the next decade in a push that includes a huge expansion of renewables and wider clean-energy infrastructure and business lines.

By the numbers: The company, already a big renewables player, said Tuesday that it's devoting $83 billion toward plans to grow its installed renewables capacity to 120 gigawatts by 2030, up from about 45 GW now.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Nov 25, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Powerful lobbying groups push back on climate suits

Powerful lobbying groups are throwing their support behind oil companies' efforts to keep climate-related lawsuits against the industry out of state courts.

Driving the news: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers, among others, filed amicus briefs this week supporting Big Oil companies in a pending jurisdictional case before the Supreme Court.

Neera Tanden withdraws nomination for Office of Management and Budget director

Neera Tanden testifying before the Senate Budget Committee in Washington, D.C., in February 2021. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Neera Tanden withdrew her name from nomination to lead the Office of Management and Budget, President Biden announced Tuesday.

Why it matters: Tanden’s nomination was already in peril after several senators voiced opposition and concern about her qualifications and past combative tweets.