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Environment Efficacy: Biden to Undertake Robust Climate Change Agenda

January 8, 2021 by Reece Nations
President-elect Joe Biden speaks during an event at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Del., Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021, to announce key nominees for the Justice Department. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON —President-elect Joe Biden’s plan to address man-made climate change appears poised to benefit from a bicameral party majority.

Biden’s plan, outlined on his campaign website, proposes $1.7 trillion in new “federal investments” over the next 10 years that would incentivize private sectors to transition to renewable energy solutions, among other initiatives. 

The effects of global climate change have already made observable impacts on the environment, according to a climate change report published by NASA. Rising temperatures around the globe have caused heat energy to be absorbed in the Earth’s oceans — causing the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets to shrink, glaciers to retreat and sea levels to rise. 

These impacts in turn cause extensive drought, heatwaves and changes to precipitation patterns. Consequently, the frequency and intensity of catastrophic wildfires and hurricanes are expected to increase as global temperatures rise. 

“Scientists have high confidence that global temperatures will continue to rise for decades to come, largely due to greenhouse gases produced by human activities,” NASA’s report read. “The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which includes more than 1,300 scientists from the United States and other countries, forecasts a temperature rise of 2.5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit over the next century.” 

The report continued, “According to the IPCC, the extent of climate change effects on individual regions will vary over time and with the ability of different societal and environmental systems to mitigate or adapt to change.” 

An Existential Threat 

While Biden has already laid the foundation to recommit the U.S. to the Paris Climate Agreement, he also plans to “fully integrate climate change” into his domestic foreign policy approach, according to his website. Biden aims to leverage the nation’s economic might and “power of example” to sway other countries into ramping up their own climate change agendas. 

One of the main pillars of Biden’s climate plan involves creating an “enforcement mechanism” for achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, according to his website. Despite this, Biden’s plan makes no mention of a carbon emissions tax that would encourage companies to transition away from fossil fuels. 

However, the plan notes that Biden will “demand” any established enforcement mechanism must reach specific milestones before his term ends in 2025. Additionally, it remains unclear if sanctions are in order for countries that fail to sufficiently curb the release of carbon emissions into the Earth’s atmosphere. 

The plan envisions a “100% clean energy economy” by 2050 through measures that reduce economic inequalities. When Biden announced his climate agenda in July 2020, along with its $2 trillion price tag, one of its goals entailed allocating 40% of all clean energy spending to disadvantaged communities. 

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris was an original co-sponsor of the “Green New Deal,” an ambitious plan intended to combat the effects of climate change while simultaneously addressing the root causes of economic inequality. Although conceived separately, the Green New Deal and Biden’s climate change agenda share similar principles. 

“I know meeting the challenge would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to jolt new life into our economy, strengthen our global leadership, protect our planet for future generations,” Biden said in a campaign speech in Wilmington, Del. “If I have the honor of being elected president, we’re not just going to tinker around the edges. We’re going to make historic investments that will seize the opportunity, meet this moment in history.” 

To accomplish this, Biden’s climate agenda is predicated on reversing major rollbacks undertaken by the Trump administration. 

‘Devastation Wrought’ 

In his four years in office, President Donald Trump rolled back over 70 environmental regulations, according to Harvard’s Environmental & Energy Law Program tracker. Some of the Trump administration’s regulation rollbacks were held up by litigation. 

At Trump’s behest, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency referred the fewest number of criminal anti-pollution cases to the Justice Department in 30 years during his term as president. 

Trump’s EPA also weakened Obama administration-era guidelines on methane leaks from oil and gas fields and carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. The Department of the Interior under Trump similarly weakened protections for wildlife in order to open protected land for oil and gas projects. 

The Biden plan also mentions requiring U.S. government buildings to increase energy efficiency and requiring public corporations to disclose the amount of carbon emissions originating from their operations. 

The Biden plan makes no mention of a proposed ban on fracking — a contentious issue addressed by Harris during a televised debate with Vice President Mike Pence. Biden’s plan includes issuing economic sanctions for companies that over-emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. 

Negotiation and Compromise 

Biden’s plan would also reestablish the electric vehicles tax credits and employ assistance from governors and mayors to deploy 500,000 new public vehicle charging stations by the end of 2030. The plan also aims to undertake the electrification of other forms of public transit infrastructure, like bus and rail. 

These initiatives have caught the attention of auto industry trade groups and executives alike. In December, president and CEO of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation John Bozzella said in a statement sent to Law360.com that “hundreds of billions” are being spent to enable the industry’s transition into fully electric vehicles. 

“We recognize that regulation and policy will help set the terms for that future and that near-term regulatory issues will need to be resolved in a way that benefits the economy, the workforce and the environment,” Bozzella said in a statement. “To accomplish that, the association looks forward to engaging with the incoming Biden administration on an aligned nationwide program to advance the shared goals of reducing emissions and realizing the benefits of an electric future.” 

Chairman and CEO of General Motors Mary Barra in November wrote a letter to leaders of the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity, the National Resources Defense Council and other major environmental non-profit groups, stating their organization is confident the Biden-Harris administration, stakeholders in the auto industry, and California will forge a path together towards an “all-electric future.” 

Barra’s letter came after Biden publicly praised GM’s decision to withdraw its support of the Trump administration’s efforts to retract states’ tailpipe pollution regulations. On the campaign trail, Biden met with Barra, labor groups and other business leaders to talk through his “Build Back Better” plan for economic recovery. 

“We believe the ambitious electrification goals of the president-elect, California, and General Motors are aligned to address climate change by drastically reducing automobile emissions,” Barra said in the letter. 

A major tenet of Biden’s plan focuses on ensuring consumers are supplied with affordable electric vehicles that are also made-in-America, addressing both economic stimulation and climate change mitigation.

Originally, it was thought that Biden’s plan would only come to fruition if he chose to wield executive authority to do so. Now, on the heels of Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff’s Georgia runoff victories against incumbent Senate Republican candidates, Biden can do so with a congressional majority at his side. 

“These are the most critical investments we can make for the long-term health and vitality of both the American economy and the physical health and safety of the American people,” Biden said as a candidate on the campaign trail. “When Donald Trump thinks about climate change, the only word he can muster is ‘hoax.’ When I think about climate change, the word I think of is ‘jobs.’” 

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