Joe Biden is the next president. What’s that mean for climate change?

He'll be expected to reverse many Trump policies but given GOP control of the Senate and other challenges, the immediate impact is unclear
Credit: (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
File photo: Nov. 2, on the eve of Election Day, former Vice President Joe Biden spoke at at a drive-in campaign rally in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

For the first time in four years, the country will be led by a president who believes climate change is real and needs to be a top priority in the administration’s agenda. Will it make much of a difference?

President-elect Joe Biden will certainly be expected try to reverse many of the prior administration’s environmental policies, but he is likely to face tough hurdles in achieving the type of sweeping climate change initiatives he touted during his campaign, as his agenda marks a radical shift from the past four years under President Trump.

Biden has vowed to roll back many of the rules imposed by the Trump administration, but given the administrative process, and possible court challenges in front of a federal judiciary stocked with Trump appointees, that is likely to take years accomplish. Advocates urged the president-elect to waste little time in starting the process.

With a fiscal crisis looming caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Republican leaders, however, are unlikely to approve $2 trillion spending over four years in green areas, such as transportation, infrastructure and new building practices, all needed to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions as the former vice president proposed during the campaign.

Nor will it be easy to reconstitute the Obama administration’s ambitious plan to curb emissions from the power sector, although some inroads will be achieved by multistate efforts, including New Jersey, to switch to 100% clean energy — primarily renewables like offshore wind, solar, and nuclear power — by mid-century.

Indeed, in the last four years—absent federal actions, many states have led efforts to promote renewable energy, a transition to electric cars, and smarter energy efficiency policies.

Biden has promised immediate action

Whether that is good enough to reach net-zero emissions of carbon pollution by 2050 as Biden has suggested remains questionable. Even so, the president-elect has proposed a range of immediate actions he will take through executive orders during his first day in the office to address climate change.

They include measures to clamp down on methane pollution limits on oil and gas operations, a regulatory proposal rolled back by the Trump administration; toughen fuel economy standards, another rule relaxed under Trump; and ramp up spending on electric vehicles and other clean-energy initiatives.

Biden also has vowed to rejoin the Paris climate agreement, which the United States officially exited this past Wednesday. Doing so, however, it would require the U.S. to submit a new set of commitments to cut emissions before 2021.

In many ways, Biden’s climate agenda has been credited as the most progressive attempt to deal with global warming change — a problem that has become increasingly evident in the past four years with a steadily warming planet, rising sea levels, and extreme storm events.

The Trump administration rolled back more than 100 environmental regulations during its term, relaxing rules governing how much air pollution could be emitted by power plants and factories, drinking water protections, and shrinking parts of national monuments previously established under past presidents, like Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante.

Clean-energy advocates say the new administration can achieve some of its climate goals by ramping up spending on energy efficiency. “With robust investments, energy efficiency can halve U.S. carbon emissions by mid-century and buoy economic recovery by creating good-paying local jobs,’’ said Steven Nadel, executive director for the American Council of an Energy-Efficient Economy.

“In his first 100 days, Biden can set a new course by expediting the energy transition and by restoring rules and regulations that protect public health and the environment,’’ said Dr. Andrew Steer, president and CEO of World Resources Institute.

Biden also is expected to push to reduce subsidies for fossil fuels and seek to direct more investments in environmental justice communities, where pollution burdens impair the health of residents.

For instance, the new administration would issue new guidance directly to agencies to consider environmental justice communities in their decision-making process.

In a deeply divided country, it will be a platform that will face opposition, but backed by a community fighting for such changes for the past four years.