How a Biden Administration Can Roll Up Its Sleeves on Climate Action

On Saturday, as much of the nation sat in anticipation, former Vice President Joe Biden won the state of Pennsylvania and its 20 crucial electoral votes to become the President-elect of the United States. For Americans concerned with climate action, it was an immense sigh of relief to know that the past four years of vast deregulation would soon come to a close.

However, if the Senate stays under Republican control (a likely double runoff in Georgia will decide this), Biden’s options for comprehensive climate action will be an uphill climb that’s mostly limited to executive action. But despite that, what can be achieved?

For starters, there’s quite a bit of “re-regulation” that could be enacted to counter the damage that’s been done by the Trump administration. But other deregulatory actions that have become final rules will have to be put through the rulemaking process anew.

What We Do Know: President-elect Joe Biden has vowed to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement on his first day in office as well as rescind the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline. However, rejoining the Paris Agreement will require that the United States create new emissions reductions commitments that will need a regulatory scheme (like President Obama’s Clean Power Plan) to meet those commitments.

Why This Matters: We’ve lost precious time to take action on climate change under the Trump administration, thus underscoring the urgency with which a Biden administration will have to act. It’s worth noting that while executive actions are perhaps not the ideal policy option, they can be effective. Especially if a President Biden is willing to declare climate change a national emergency and expand the scope of his executive powers.

Potential Steps: While rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement may seem like low-hanging fruit, creating new emissions reductions targets for the United States will be an important roadmap for how we can address climate change as a nation. It’s an opportunity to craft the Clean Power Plan 2.0.

Here are some other actions a Biden White House could take to enact its climate agenda without necessarily needing Congress;

  • Stop defending the Trump administration’s pending court cases as they pertain to environmental deregulation.
  • Immediately restore national monuments that Trump has downscaled.
  • Walk back Trump’s “America First” energy plan that expands offshore drilling and instead focus on developing offshore wind.
    • In the same spirit, the Biden administration could put new restrictions on oil and gas development.
  • Reverse Trumps’ rollback of vehicle emissions standards, reinstate California’s waiver to set its own standards and spur the sales of electric vehicles.
  • Set more stringent methane rules for oil and gas facilities.

And while this would take work with Congress, there’s bipartisan appetite for the passage of an infrastructure bill in Congress. This could be an opportunity to have clean energy economy components like EV charging networks included in the legislation.

Walk the Talk: Aside from the myriad executive actions Biden could take to advance climate action, it will be incredibly important for the United States federal government to incorporate climate change in its purchasing decisions and for our leaders to talk about the issue and continue to drive national awareness. Rhetoric does matter and for the White House to once again be a place where science is accepted and scientists are listened to is crucial for the nation to witness. The White House sets the climate agenda and four years of zero leadership have certainly taken their toll on what Americans feel is possible. It’s time for all of the federal government to signal that climate action is a top priority and that action will happen.

Go Deeper: Take a look at our election recap where we take a deeper dive on potential first steps for a Biden administration when it comes to climate action.


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