What Biden’s Presidential Win Means for the Environment

Hopeful but with severe limits.


Climate change has been a prominent part of the Biden campaign and served as his final pitch in many swing states. It has consistently polled as a top concern among Democratic voters this year and also among faltering Trump voters.

The reality, as long as Mitch McConnell is in charge of the Senate, much of the comprehensive climate agenda, which requires legislation, is not going to be possible.

“There is some slim chance Democrats in the House and Republicans in the Senate can work together to pass more stimulus, or do something on infrastructure (which could include plenty of climate-friendly stuff), but the most likely result is that McConnell continues his strategy of scorched-earth partisan warfare and nothing but essential budget bills pass.”

David Roberts

The problem of the GOP climate obstinacy is born of the party’s institutional ties to fossil fuels and remains to be solved.

Here’s What Biden Can Achieve Without Congress

Thankfully there is a tremendous amount that Biden can do with the presidency alone.

The Trump administration has weakened or rolled back more than 125 environmental protection rules. Biden is able to immediately reverse them.

Further he can demand the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop a more aggressive version of Obama’s Clean Power Plan for the electricity sector, to aim at his goal of net-zero emissions electricity by 2035.

He can also instruct the Department of Transportation to advance “rigorous new fuel economy standards aimed at ensuring 100% of new sales for light- and medium-duty vehicles will be electrified.”

For California with its own ambitious vehicle standards, which Trump is in court trying to block, Biden can grant the waiver it needs.

He can reinstate protections and encourage safe development of renewable energy, and restore the “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule to prevent water pollution, where Trump enacted an oil and gas development bender on public land. Trumps roll back on the rules on methane leakage from oil and gas operations can also be restored and strengthened by Biden as well.

With those two things alone you have to realize how the roll backs have contributed to increased toxicity in our water and air. This is a crime to public health, really.

A Vox article suggests that one of the most crucial structural steps Biden can make is to use the power given to him by the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation to ensure that the Federal Reserve, and the financial system in general, take climate risk into account and channel investment away from carbon-intensive projects.

What Biden Can Achieve Internationally

On an international level Biden pledged to rejoin the Paris Agreement and can reassure America’s international partners that it is back in the climate game and strengthen foreign policy. America’s reputation across the globe has been very damaged under the Trump administration, except with autocratic and fossil fuel driven nations.

Biden could rejoin the World Health Organization. He could also thrust ahead international agreements around deforestation, plastics, hydrofluorocarbons, or other climate-adjacent issues.

The Bottom Line

Biden can achieve tremendous progress in four years if he is fearless enough in his use of executive powers and willing to brush off the unavoidable rebuke from Republicans and pundits alike. There’s most likely and unfortunately no chance for the US to reach the Democrat’s shared goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The standard political fact, for Biden as it has been for Obama, will be the severe limits drawn by total GOP obstinacy that will sabotage clean energy policy at every corner. 

Information for this blog post was taken and inspired by the Vox article “Joe Biden will be president, but there will be no Green New Deal”

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