What can President-Elect Biden get done on energy in the first 100 days?


From pv magazine USA

While there is still time to go before the ballots are all counted and the winner of the 2020 presidential election is determined, a win by Joe Biden would mean significant change in American climate and energy policy.

However, the near certainty that the Senate will remain in Republican control puts a damper on Democrats’ plans. With that in mind, let’s take a cursory look at what a Biden-Harris administration could accomplish on climate and energy in its first 100 days.

Without Congress

Like every campaign, the Biden camp promises immediate and sweeping action on day one in office, including “A series of new executive orders with unprecedented reach that go well beyond the Obama-Biden Administration platform and put us on the right track.”

Early on, executive orders will be the most effective way to institute policy and will likely be reserved for the administration’s landmark goals.

The likely scope of these orders will include undoing actions by the Trump administration to weaken industrial pollution regulations, reduce automobile and appliance efficiency standards and open federal lands to oil and gas extraction.

The most prominent day one executive action that the Biden administration could take would be to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, which the U.S. officially left on Wednesday.

There are two courses that any administration can take to enter into international agreements, only one of which requires Senate approval. In fact, the majority of international agreements that the U.S. has entered into since World War II have come as sole executive agreements. There is also historical legislative precedent for a president to act with sole executive authority on international climate matters.

With Congress

Another of the Biden campaign’s day one promises is to “make smart infrastructure investments to rebuild the nation and to ensure that our buildings, water, transportation, and energy infrastructure can withstand the impacts of climate change.”

These plans would require federal funding, which brings congress into the fray.

All of these measures fall under Biden’s $2 trillion climate plan, which is already expected to meet staunch opposition from Republicans, so it appears unlikely that these investments could be made in the first 100 days, let alone day one.

Luckily for Biden, not all of his climate- and energy-related measures will be met with direct Republican opposition. According to the campaign’s climate plan, Biden will “demand that Congress enacts legislation in the first year of his presidency that: 1) establishes an enforcement mechanism that includes milestone targets no later than the end of his first term in 2025; 2) makes a historic investment in clean energy and climate research and innovation; 3) incentivizes the rapid deployment of clean energy innovations across the economy, especially in communities most impacted by climate change.”

The first point relates to Biden’s pledge to set the power sector on a course for complete decarbonization by 2035. This is the most unlikely scenario to be passed in the first 100 days, as utilities and energy experts alike have already questioned its feasibility.

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Where progress can happen

If there is a way that Biden is going to be able to break through to Republicans in the Senate, using the economy as catalyst for energy investment is the way to do it.

In September, Senators Lisa Murkowski and Sheldon Whitehouse took part in a Stanford University-hosted event to discuss prospects for bipartisan climate change legislation. During the event, the two were in agreement that bipartisan support exists for research and development into grid technologies. The idea here is that, regardless of who the president is, high penetration of renewables onto the grid is all but inevitable, so there is support across the aisle into developing the best way to integrate these resources.

Additionally likely would be clean energy employment and infrastructure investments coming by way of a coronavirus relief bill. This would likely be one of the first pieces of legislation pursued by a Biden administration and, with some compromise, could gain bipartisan support.

Economic recovery in a country that is still very much virus-inflicted has been a chief concern for both parties, which means there could be support for tax incentives aimed at renewable development. In the same vein, Biden could gain access to federal funds for the creation of clean energy jobs.

While the U.S. unemployment rate has fallen significantly since its high of around 15% at the onset of the pandemic, it’s still roughly double what it was at the beginning of the year, currently sitting at 7.9%. It’s fully plausible that some senate Republicans could prioritize economic recovery and increased national employment over fossil fuel interests.

What not to expect

Setting the power sector on a course for complete decarbonization by 2035 will almost certainly not happen in the first 100 days and would be an accomplishment if it happens in Biden’s first term, assuming he wins. And while rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement will likely happen in the first 100 days, any additional international action is unlikely in that short of a span.

The Biden campaign outlines nine key elements of a plan for a clean energy revolution, one of which promises that, within the first 100 days, Biden “will convene a climate world summit to directly engage the leaders of the major greenhouse gas-emitting nations of the world to persuade them to join the United States in making more ambitious national pledges, above and beyond the commitments they have already made.”

Could this summit happen? Yes.

Will any binding international pledges come out by the end of April? It’s unlikely.

For now, it’s safe to assume that the most likely actions to be taken in the first 100 days will be a rollback on many of President Trump’s executive orders regarding emissions and fossil fuel extraction, a rejoining of the Paris Climate Agreement and clean energy employment and research investment being included in a coronavirus relief bill.

For a more general look at his energy and environment platform, look to Biden’s 9 Key Elements fact sheet, climate plan and clean energy plan.


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