Don’t hold your breath for big climate policy changes — even if a Democrat wins the White House.
Why it matters: Congress is likely to remain gridlocked on the matter, leading to either more of the same with President Trump’s re-election or a regulatory swing back to the left no matter which Democrat wins — but far short of a legislative overhaul.
Here’s why, with potential scenarios mapped out...
1. Trump wins re-election.
- While Trump is uniquely unpredictable, he's made it clear since moving into the White House that he’s not interested in pursuing any sort of actual climate legislation on Capitol Hill.
2. Any Democrat wins.
- All Democrats have aggressive climate plans, but it’s an open question whether any would first push climate legislation over other priorities — especially health care.
- Regardless of congressional priority, any Democratic president would swing Washington’s executive-action pendulum far back in the other direction of aggressive regulation and more.
- Reality check: This pendulum dynamic is classic Washington. It’s inefficient and ingrains uncertainty for everyone involved, including corporate executives (who hate uncertainty), the environment itself and all of us affected by that environment.
3. A progressive Democrat wins ... like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren.
- These senators are among the most progressive in the Democratic Party. The types of all-encompassing and hyper-aggressive legislation they would likely push is unlikely to get universal support among Democrats (to say nothing of universal Republican opposition) — which makes them extremely unlikely to get through the Senate even if legislative rules were changed.
4. A more moderate Democrat wins ... like Joe Biden, Amy Klobuchar or Michael Bloomberg.
- I anticipate these politicians would be (relatively) more open to trying to work with Republicans on climate change than their progressive counterparts.
- Research shows that bipartisanship is almost always essential to pass big policy through Congress.
The intrigue: A path to passage of, say, a clean energy standard or a carbon tax would require a grand bargain-type bipartisan compromise, like we saw in 2015 when Congress paired renewing clean-energy subsidies with lifting a ban on oil exports. Though this one would need to be a bigger and more complicated grand bargain.
Yes, but: The holdup comes from both sides. So far, few Republicans are publicly supporting anything bigger, like a carbon tax, while Democrats want even more aggressive policies.
What I’m watching: To what degree narrower policies, like a bipartisan Senate bill introduced last week, gain more congressional support given this landscape. Off the Hill, my focus is shifting to actions by states and corporations.
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