What Democrats Should Do On Climate Now

Georgia Senate wins deliver a strong mandate on climate action

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Hello, welcome to the end of a hellish first week of 2021. Because of the tragic riot at the United States Capitol, we were unable to truly enjoy the historic nature of Tuesday’s election of Rev. Raphael Warnock and the subsequent Senate-flipping victory of Jon Ossoff. But despite Wednesday’s horrific riot scenes and outright rejection of democracy, on January 20 - as President Trump has now acknowledged - a new administration will be sworn-in and Democrats will bring with it majorities in both the House and Senate. Though that is unlikely to catapult 100% of the remarkably ambitious Biden Climate Plan into reality, it is nevertheless consequential. And for climate activists, for the first time in years, consecutive elections for national office will have consequences they can enjoy. So, what do Democrats do now? We now have two major focus areas instead of one - both in the executive branch and in Congress. Let’s start with what the next president should do first.

9 Climate Actions Biden Should Take On Day One

A majority in both the House and Senate should only further embolden President-elect Biden to recognize his climate mandate and take aggressive executive action to curb greenhouse gas emissions and reverse Trump-era deregulatory damage. Harvard University’s Environmental and Energy Law Program put together a terrific outline of Day One Actions to Fulfill Biden Pledges on Climate and the Environment  that shows both the immediate moves that can be made on January 20 and the executive goals that can be completed in the first 100 days. But just focusing on the Day One work from this Harvard list, here are some of the biggest changes I see that President-elect Biden can make to signal his continued support of climate action to the environmentally-motivated base that helped him get elected:

  1. Stop new permitting on public lands immediately

  2. Speed-up approval of pending offshore wind projects 

  3. Put together a governors’ wildfire commission to modernize firefighting practices and recognize the multi-state preparation required to battle fires in 2021

  4. Rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement - it’s just fun to remember this is still a thing that will happen

  5. Strengthen the social cost of carbon calculations to be used across government agencies. Yeah, math!

  6. Establish new efficiency standards for energy conservation on light bulbs and appliances (file this under Bringin’ Sexy Back)

  7. Immediately regulate methane emissions with new standards

  8. Protect and strengthen the Obama-era transportation emission standards, known as the CAFE standard

  9. Kill the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Keystone XL Pipeline - Biden’s already said he’d nix Keystone. Do the same with DAPL.

Develop a legislative strategy to forward climate action in Congress

David Roberts has an excellent breakdown in his newsletter Volts of what the Georgia victory means and doesn’t mean for climate legislation. In short, without 60 votes in the Senate, Democrats will be unable to break through the inevitable filibuster attempts from the GOP, which puts a real damper on any ambition on climate action. However, as a result of the unexpected Senate majority, Democrats will be able to chair committees, decide which bills come to the floor, and confirm more climate-friendly judges and cabinet appointees. That’s not nothing. As Roberts notes, even with just 50 votes, Democrats could pass a bill through budget reconciliation in the Senate that boosts clean energy development and curbs carbon emissions through actions like a “refunded carbon fee, clean-energy tax credits and RD&D investments, infrastructure investments” and even establish a Green Bank, which clean energy advocates like 38 North’s Katherine Hamilton have often championed as a crucial move. And though West Virginia Sen. Joe Machin has almost Thanos-like legislative power on energy as the most conservative Democrat in a 50-50 split and the new chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and strongly opposes removing the filibuster or anything resembling a Green New Deal, the clean energy benefits in a recent spending bill supported by Manchin signal not all hope is lost of something positive moving through Congress.

Thanks Obama (for real)

On this week’s episode of The Climate Pod, Politico’s Michael Grunwald, who wrote the excellent The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era, joined the show to talk about how 2009’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was secretly the most consequential climate legislation ever passed in the United States. This stimulus act mattered a great deal then and now. Here’s a fun fact: because there is $40 billion in unused loan authority that was awarded to the Energy Department under the 2009 stimulus, Biden now has an easy way to get his climate and infrastructure plans started with real money. But the lessons from the Obama era on clean energy go even further than money left behind. Economic stimulus during the Obama years was extraordinarily successful and transformed the clean energy sector, despite a rather lukewarm reception from most major media outlets. Grunwald explained exactly what worked and how President-elect Biden, who ran point on enacting the stimulus, is likely to take what he learned into the Oval Office on Jan 20. It’s a great episode. Check it out here.

That’s all for this week. Stay safe. Be good to one another. And let’s keep fighting for a better future together.