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Photo illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images     

The institutional hurdles in front of President-elect Joe Biden's energy and climate agenda are very formidable, but you can also imagine things breaking Biden's way — enough to set the country on a path toward the emissions cuts his platform envisions.

Why it matters: Biden aims to put the country on a path toward net-zero emissions by 2050 and 100% carbon-free power by 2035 — but Democrats face long odds of winning the Senate.

  • So big legislation is very unlikely and would be tough even with a 50-50 Senate that enabled VP-elect Kamala Harris to break ties.
  • Plus, regulations face litigation that could land before the conservative Supreme Court.

The big picture: All that said, a bunch of forces could move in tandem to help Biden despite those strong headwinds. Here's that bull case...

1. Preparations. Many have been waiting for this opportunity for a long time, so there's no shortage of ideas for marshaling a government-wide approach that draws in many agencies.

  • "There have been hundreds of thousands of hours by think tanks, NGOs, academics, and lawyers preparing for really solid regulatory efforts," says Jeff Navin, who was the DOE's chief of staff during the Obama administration.
  • For instance, yesterday the Washington Post reported: "A team of former Obama administration officials and experts have created a 300-page blueprint laying out a holistic approach to the climate while avoiding some of the pitfalls."
  • Leah Stokes, a climate policy expert with UC Santa Barbara, points out that unlike in the early Obama era, nobody is pinning their hopes on a "magical" climate bill.
  • "Executive actions can focus on the tools that are already in the toolbox sooner and move them along faster," Stokes says. (BTW, the latest episode of "A Matter of Degrees," a podcast she co-hosts, delves into this.)

2. Economics. Clean energy is way cheaper than it was when Barack Obama took office, and many big power companies — like Duke and Southern — are vowing aggressive emissions curbs over the next few decades.

  • "These are not liberal, tree-hugging utilities. ... The transition to clean makes economic sense, it’s what their customers want, and it helps hedge against further carbon regulation swing," notes Navin, co-founder of Boundary Stone Partners, an advisory and lobbying firm that includes clean energy clients.
  • Electric vehicles offerings are becoming wider and batteries are getting cheaper.

3. Congress. There could be successful efforts to include clean energy and climate-related investments in a COVID-19 recovery package and/or infrastructure bill, even if moving a sweeping emissions bill won't happen.

4. Corporations. While legal fights await ambitious regulations, companies begin adapting to the rules anyway, Stokes says. Regulated industries “are probably going to start planning for those rules anyway even while litigation is pending. That all takes a long time,” she adds.

  • Plus, big companies are making pretty aggressive pledges these days. Some of them are kind of airy, but others are devoting real resources and doing tangible things.
  • We’re starting to see some big U.S. oil producers — Occidental and ConocoPhillips — move in the direction of European efforts.

Go deeper

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Jan 29, 2021 - Economy & Business

General Motors puts Trump in its rearview mirror

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

General Motors (GM) is racing to prepare itself for a president and a world that takes climate change more seriously — and putting the Trump era behind them in the process.

Driving the news: GM yesterday announced an ambitious plan to end global sales of internal combustion vehicles by 2035. It's part of their wider new pledge to be carbon neutral by 2040.

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
32 mins ago - Economy & Business

The European Central Bank and the market's moment of truth

ECB president Christine Lagarde; Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The biggest event for markets this week will be Thursday's meeting of the European Central Bank's governing council and the press conference following it from ECB president Christine Lagarde.

Why it matters: With interest rates jumping around the globe, investors are looking to central bank heads to see if they will follow the lead of Fed chair Jerome Powell, who says rising rates are nothing to worry about, or Bank of Japan governor Haruhiko Kuroda, who has drawn a line in the sand on rates.

Mike Allen, author of AM
1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Manchin's next power play

Photo: "Axios on HBO"

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), America's ultimate swing voter, told me on "Axios on HBO" that he'll insist Republicans have more of a voice on President Biden's next big package than they did on the COVID stimulus.

The big picture: Manchin said he'll push for tax hikes to pay for Biden's upcoming infrastructure and climate proposal, and will use his Energy Committee chairmanship to force the GOP to confront climate reality.