Can Biden Deliver on His Climate Promises?
“There is wide scope for the executive branch to reinstate what Obama did and go beyond,” Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton, told The Times. But, he added, “if you want something that will stick, you have to go through Congress.”
Mr. Biden will also need help from Congress to pay for his plan, which will cost $2 trillion over four years. “If the United States wants to get serious about tackling climate change,” The Times reporter Brad Plumer wrote in December, “the country will need to build a staggering amount of new energy infrastructure in just the next 10 years, laying down steel and concrete at a pace barely being contemplated today.”
But getting buy-in from Congress is likely to be extremely difficult, even now that Democrats effectively control it. The most immediate obstacle is the filibuster, a Senate rule that raises the threshold for passing many bills to 60 votes from 51.
Senate Democrats could vote to eliminate the filibuster, but two, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, remain opposed to the idea. Mr. Manchin, in particular, poses a problem for Mr. Biden’s climate agenda: Having campaigned for his seat in 2010 with a TV advertisement that featured him shooting a physical copy of the last major climate bill with a hunting rifle, he now runs the Senate Energy Committee.
If the filibuster remains, Democrats will almost certainly have to circumvent it through budget reconciliation, a process that can be used to pass certain kinds of legislation by a simple majority. That process will be overseen by Senator Bernie Sanders, whose climate plan during the presidential campaign was even more aggressive than Mr. Biden’s.
Using budget reconciliation, there are at least five different ways the Senate could set a national standard for Mr. Biden’s goal of 100 percent clean energy by 2035, according to Leah Stokes, a political science professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who is writing a report on the subject. “This is the heart of his bold, ambitious platform,” Dr. Stokes told Greentech Media. “The goal of our report is to make it clear that this can be done through reconciliation.”
But Democrats would still have to think creatively about how to earn Mr. Manchin’s support for such a proposal. One idea, proposed by Kate Aronoff in The New Republic, is for Democrats to tie a climate package to economic benefits for Mr. Manchin’s constituents in West Virginia, which has one of the highest poverty rates in the country. “A climate bill could be Manchin’s chance to deliver, promising better, less dangerous jobs to replace the old coal ones that will never return, climate policy or no,” she writes.