Show an ad over header. AMP

Biden's Day 1 challenges: Climate change

President-elect Joe Biden will face constraints of both politics and time when it comes to pursuing his aggressive climate-change agenda.

Driving the news: Biden will enter a White House after four years of President Trump rolling back climate policies and time running out to substantively address the problem.

Where it stands: The highest profile parts of Biden’s agenda, and the ones that will be quickest out of the gate on Inauguration Day, will be initiatives to reverse Trump’s rollbacks on a host of fronts across the environmental and energy spaces.

  • The list is long (more than 100 by The New York Timescount), but the number of Trump's rollbacks isn’t actually the biggest impact of his presidency. It’s lost time.
  • This temporal hiatus is essential to understanding how Biden is caught between urgency and politics.

“The impact of the Trump administration on emissions has been significant, but the actual regulatory rollbacks were only part of it,” said Trevor Houser, partner at the consulting and research firm Rhodium Group. “The bigger impact was four years of lost federal policy action.”

The big picture: Climate change, unlike most other public policy problems, is cumulative. The longer we wait, the harder it gets to solve. Trump’s presidency has coincided with rising alarm and evidence of a warming planet, but the world has been methodically cooking itself for decades.

“We’ve had 30 years of inadequate response to climate change, and the last four have been dramatic because there was actually an intention to not respond as opposed to just an inability to respond.”
Jason Grumet, president of the Bipartisan Policy Center, a centrist think tank

How it works: Biden has two sequential goals to reduce U.S. emissions, which are in line with scientific consensus but which are also both going to be Herculean political tasks to start solving (let alone achieve).

  • His first goalis to have a carbon-free electricity grid by 2035. Right now, a little less than two-thirds of U.S. electricity is powered by natural gas and coal.
  • Biden’s longer-term goal is to have a net zero-carbon economy by 2050. Right now, about 80% of domestic energy consumption and production came from oil, natural gas or coal.

Biden is poised to leverage every inch of the federal government to act on climate change. There are likely to be new financial rules, new environmental regulations and unprecedented limits on fossil-fuel leasing on federal lands and waters, to name just a few of the dozens of probable actions.

  • But, but, but: He’s still unlikely to achieve his biggest goals without major new laws passed by Congress.
  • His regulatory actions, which will inevitably be litigated, will face a more conservative judiciary — not just the Supreme Court, but courts throughout the system.
“The urgency of climate change has grown. The courts have become more difficult and less hospitable to the ambitious use of regulatory authority and the Congress has gotten ever more partisan.”
Jody Freeman, Harvard professor and former Obama administration official

The state of play: Congress, with Republicans (probably) still controlling the Senate, is unlikely to pass laws any time soon that would get close to achieving Biden’s goals.

  • Additional clean-energy spending and expanded tax incentives are likely the upper limit of what is possible in the short-term, and would likely be incorporated into economic stimulus legislation.
  • A Green New Deal that's anything like the initiatives described in the resolution backed by Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey has no chance of passing.
  • A carbon tax also faces steep odds, given politicians’ general aversion to new taxes and especially during a recession when so many Americans are suffering economically.

The intrigue: One relatively ambitious policy that some Washington insiders believe is possible is a clean energy standard for electricity, which would help achieve Biden’s 2035 carbon-free power goal.

  • A bipartisan version exists in the House, and Republicans in both chambers have increasingly acknowledged the government should do something about climate change.

But, but, but: Such a substantive debate on climate policy is unlikely to occur out of the gate of a Biden presidency given the twin health and economic crises. Some experts say that would be a wise move.

  • “I don’t think we want the biggest climate battles to happen in the next six to 18 months,” said Grumet. “We're more likely to be successful once we are through the trauma and fear of the public health and economic crises.”

What I’m watching: Climate change is already back on the diplomatic agenda, judging from Biden’s recent calls with world leaders. But the president-elect is entering these conversations after four years of America retreating and much of the rest of the world moving ahead without the U.S.

  • “It appears the international architecture built through the Paris Accord has withstood the last four years,” Houser said. “That’s unclear if that would have been the case with another four years.”

Go deeper: Election hardens political limits of Biden's agenda

Rahm Emanuel floated for Transportation secretary

President-elect Biden is strongly considering Rahm Emanuel to run the Department of Transportation, weighing the former Chicago mayor’s experience on infrastructure spending against concerns from progressives over his policing record.

Why it matters: The DOT could effectively become the new Commerce Department, as infrastructure spending, smart cities construction and the rollout of drone-delivery programs take on increasing economic weight.

Keep reading... Show less

Biden turns to experienced hands for White House economic team

Joe Biden plans to announce Cecilia Rouse and Brian Deese as part of his economic team and Neera Tanden to head the Office of Management and Budget, sources tell Axios.

Why it matters: These are experienced hands. Unveiling a diverse group of advisers also may draw attention away from a selection of Deese to run the National Economic Council. Some progressives have criticized his work at BlackRock, the world's largest asset management firm.

Keep reading... Show less

Kushner to visit Saudi Arabia and Qatar seeking deal to end crisis

Jared Kushner will travel in the coming days to Saudi Arabia and Qatar in a last-ditch effort to resolve the dispute between the Gulf countries.

Why it matters: Fixing the rift between Saudi Arabia and Qatar would bring a sense of stability back to the Gulf and notch a last-minute achievement for Kushner and the Trump administration before Jan. 20.

Keep reading... Show less

Wisconsin recount reaffirms Biden's victory in the state

The two recounts in Wisconsin requested by the Trump campaign were completed Sunday and confirmed that President-elect Joe Biden won the state, the Washington Post reports.

Driving the news: Biden won Wisconsin by more than 20,000 votes. Recounts in the state's most populous and liberal areas — Dane and Milwaukee counties — netted him an additional 87 votes.

Keep reading... Show less

Michelle Lujan Grisham is Congressional Hispanics choice to lead Health and Human Services

Hispanic lawmakers are openly lobbying to have New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham be named Health and Human Services secretary, according to a letter obtained by Axios.

Why it matters: These members are now following the example some Black lawmakers have used for weeks: trying to convince Joe Biden his political interests will be served by rewarding certain demographic groups with Cabinet picks.

Keep reading... Show less

Vanderbilt kicker becomes first woman to play in Power 5 football

Vanderbilt senior Sarah Fuller became the first woman to play in a Power 5 football game yesterday "when she delivered the opening kickoff of the second half for Vanderbilt against Missouri," ESPN reports.

Details: "Fuller, a senior goalkeeper on Vanderbilt's SEC championship soccer team, sent the low kick to the 35-yard line where it was downed by Missouri," as the play was designed. Vandy lost, 41-0.

Keep reading... Show less

Map: A look at world population density in 3D

This fascinating map is made by Alasdair Rae of Sheffield, England, a former professor of urban studies who is founder of Automatic Knowledge. It shows world population density in 3D.

Details: "No land is shownon the map, only the locations where people actually live. ... The higher the spike, the more people live in an area. Where there are no spikes, there are no people (e.g. you can clearly identify ... the Sahara Desert)."

Keep reading... Show less

Biden's Day 1 challenges: The immigration reset

President-elect Biden has an aggressive Day One immigration agenda that relies heavily on executive actions to undo President Trump's crackdown.

Why it matters: It's not that easy. Trump issued more than 400 executive actions on immigration. Advocates are fired up. The Supreme Court could threaten the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and experts warn there could be another surge at the border.

Keep reading... Show less



Get Goodhumans in your inbox

Most Read

More Stories