It’s been a momentous first week in Washington for the new President and Vice President. Now, as the Biden-Harris Administration turns towards addressing the urgent challenges ahead, including COVID-19, climate change continues to loom large. Here are four opportunities that the new Administration can realize immediately to address climate change.
Fulfill new promises to the international community on climate, clean energy, and leadership on decarbonization technologies through real actions. Rejoining the Paris Agreement on his first day in office was an important first step for President Biden. Now, the Biden-Harris Administration should go further – to ensure that our international efforts amount to more than symbolism, the Administration must increase domestic commitments to carbon reductions and put the United States on a path to net-zero by mid-century. That must be front and center as the Biden-Harris Administration heads into global climate negotiations, again. With a more ambitious 2030 decarbonization target, and climate neutrality by 2050 as the ultimate goal, the European Union has embarked on a bold, unprecedented effort to align policies with ambition in the very near term. If the United States is to lead, then our efforts must be concrete, achievable, and on a path to limit warming.
Spend federal funds on clean energy and climate mitigation priorities as quickly as possible, and request appropriations at the level of full authorizations for clean energy programs. By implementing Congressional directives from the newly enacted Energy Act of 2020 and breathing new life and leadership into existing clean energy programs, the Biden-Harris Administration can leverage the full power of the Department of Energy to develop and deploy the advanced technologies we will need to reduce emissions. Unlocking the Loan Program authorities and $40 billion in available funding, spending down funds already available at the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Office, and writing a strong budget request that would fully fund new authorizations for technology programs will position the Department of Energy to lead the federal government’s climate efforts to decarbonize our grid, expand electrification, support clean hydrogen production, advance supercritical geothermal and advanced nuclear technologies, and capture and store carbon.
Pursue aggressive federal procurement strategies, which could get the U.S. government below net-zero and ensure development of clean energy around the country. The Biden-Harris team can lead by implementing a higher-impact federal electricity procurement strategy across the federal government. Focusing on the delivery of 24-7 clean, zero carbon electricity to federal facilities by regional grid systems will encourage expansive deployment of clean energy resources in every community in the United States. Additionally, the federal government must commit to net-zero emissions by mid-century, and negative emissions beyond that – which can be accomplished through government support of the development of domestic saline geologic storage in the United States for permanent sequestration of carbon dioxide. Government leadership on clean energy can prioritize high labor standards, development of domestic, clean technologies and job opportunities.
Take decisive steps on air pollution and climate regulations that will stand the test of time. Clean Air Task Force’s lawyers recently won a huge victory that eliminated the unlawful Trump EPA power plant rule —which had it been kept in place, actually would have yielded increases in both climate pollution and health harming air pollutants from the electric power industry, over the coming decades. Now, there is an immediate opportunity for the Environmental Protection Agency to write power plant regulations that will have a significant effect not only on climate emissions, but will have important health benefits for communities living near coal-fired power plants. Those communities, which are more likely to be Black, brown, and lower income than the national average, would also benefit from strong Administration actions to cut super pollutants, including methane, and strong transportation and vehicle standards. An immediate and significant opportunity for this new EPA to lead is through issuing stronger regulatory requirements for methane emissions reductions and controls on new and existing oil and gas sources – to cut them by 65% from 2012 levels in the next few years – an ambitious but achievable goal.
All of these actions are not just in line with the Biden-Harris Administration’s lofty campaign goals to address climate change and achieve environmental justice for communities that have been disproportionately impacted by pollution, they are essential for public health for all Americans. If the first six days are any indication, we are definitely back on the right track for climate action in Washington.