The future outlook of Climate Change policy in the 117th Congress and the incoming administration.
At A Glance
- The Biden Administration will spend its early days in office reversing Trump Administration regulatory rollbacks.
- Existing bipartisan energy and environment bills will allow both parties to claim wins on climate policy.
Lay of the Land
According to a recent poll by the New York Times and Siena College, 58% of Americans are either “very concerned” or “somewhat concerned” about their communities being impacted by climate change. Within this poll, 51% of young voters aged 18-29 are “very concerned,” while 37% of 65+ voters feel the same way.
This rise in concern is clear in Washington and we are seeing through headlines, bills introduced, and day-to-day conversations that discussion around climate change is more prevalent than we have ever seen before -crossing party lines, geographies, and demographics. This is only expected to grow under a Biden Administration.
With the IPCC warning that we have until 2030 to make significant progress on reducing global emissions in order to keep warming to 1.5C, we expect the Biden Administration will put pressure on Congress to act. While some bipartisan action is possible, Biden will have the most influence over regulatory action and expect him to use this to his advantage.
With a split Congress, climate will still remain a large part of the political conversation but the comprehensive climate bill that Democrats were hoping for is now off the table.
In the House, climate change will remain a top priority for key committees. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) will remain chair of the Natural Resources Committee and has vowed to focus on environmental justice and climate policy. Additionally, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) will continue to lead the Energy and Commerce Committee where he has promised to consider the CLEAN Future Act that would help the U.S. reach net-zero emissions by 2050.
In the Senate, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), one of the biggest advocates for climate action in the Republican party, is term-limited out of her leadership position on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) is expected to take this position. While less focused on bipartisan climate solutions, he has championed carbon capture and sequestration technologies and will likely continue to do so, especially alongside Ranking Member Joe Manchin (D-WV) who also hails from a coal-heavy state.
- Stimulus package to include climate provisions. A stimulus package early next year will need to include a host of job-creating opportunities, including funding for renewable energy innovation and implementation. Expect this spending package to include policies that spur renewable energy, active transportation and green infrastructure that will invigorate the economy.
- Low-hanging fruit will attract bipartisan support. Legislative opportunities, like a bipartisan energy bill in the Senate and phaseout of hydrofluorocarbons, will give both parties wins early in the new Congress.
- Environmental justice will be a key consideration In all policy Lawmakers will need to show that their policy proposals include equity considerations. Congressional Democrats will make this a priority in their support for any climate-related bill.
- Funding bills have consistently supported climate policy. This will not Appropriations bills under a Trump Administration and Republican-controlled Senate have given historically high increases to climate- friendly government programs, such as ARPA-E. Look to future appropriations bills to continue this trajectory.
President-elect Biden has made climate change a core pillar of his campaign and his first 100 days will reflect this. He has pledged to enact a $2 trillion climate plan once elected that will 1.) ensure the U.S. achieves a 100% clean energy economy and reaches net-zero emissions no later than 2050, and 2.) reach 100% clean energy by 2035. He will have a lot harder time reaching these targets with a Republican-controlled Senate who will likely block any comprehensive climate legislation. Instead, Biden will have to rely heavily on his regulatory authority to achieve these goals.
- Key personnel will determine direction. Look to who Biden chooses to fill his cabinet positions to dictate how he will address issues related to environmental justice and corporate sustainability. Biden should announce soon whether he will create a position in his cabinet dedicated solely towards climate change.
- Rejoining the Paris Agreement will be one of Biden’s first While the act of rejoining the Paris Agreement is an easy pledge to fulfill with widespread support from the business community, the actual implementation will be much harder. Look for support to break down when the Biden Administration begins putting together its 10-year plan to reduce emissions as required under the climate accord.
- Immediate regulatory fixes to Trump’s rollbacks. Along with rejoining the Paris Agreement, the Biden Administration will focus on reversing regulatory rollbacks such as auto emissions standards, corporate disclosures on climate risk, and efficiency standards for buildings and Many of Trump’s rollbacks have been upheld by the courts, so watch for the Biden Administration to face lawsuits from conservative states as they work to restore these regulations.
- Biden will prioritize proactive climate regulations. The Biden Administration can still cause effective change within the federal government using executive orders. This could include requiring federal agencies to work towards net-zero emissions by 2050 and create financial regulations that will force corporations to prioritize climate change. Similar to reversing Trump Administration rollbacks, this will likely lead to backlash from the Republican-controlled Senate and state governments.