Author: Doug Gavel
Former White House advisor Jason Bordoff, professor and founding director of the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), says the incoming Biden-Harris Administration will have the opportunity to both lift the nation out of recession and combat global climate change by crafting a thoughtful economic stimulus plan containing a significant green energy investment component.
“There is a need for fiscal stimulus and smart government investments that help the economy recover, particularly when the cost of government borrowing is so low,” Bordoff remarked Thursday (Nov. 12) during a Virtual Forum sponsored by the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements (HPCA), and hosted by Robert Stavins, A.J. Meyer Professor of Energy and Economic Development at Harvard Kennedy School. “Now is the time to make investments that both help the economy today and help to deliver economic returns in future investments in infrastructure.”
Bordoff used the metaphor of a Venn diagram to illustrate the way he looks at the new administration’s challenge when it assumes power in January.
“If you take a circle of things that are good fiscal stimulus to support economic recovery and a circle of things that are good to advance clean energy, there is certainly overlap with, for example, investment and support for renewable energy, and building infrastructure that will support a transition toward electrification of the transport sector,” he said.
Bordoff admitted that President-elect Biden’s proposed $2 trillion of investments in clean energy won’t be an easy sell, particularly if Republicans hold the Senate. However, he noted that during the campaign, President-Elect Biden called for significant increases in funding for research and development on clean energy technologies including grid-scale energy storage, small modular nuclear reactors, and capturing carbon dioxide from power plants. A number of Senate Republicans, including Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), called for the same. Indeed, during the past four years, despite Trump administration proposals for deep cuts, federal budgets for clean energy innovation actually increased by 25 percent, due to broad bipartisan support.
“But as difficult as it may be to move forward on climate legislation, I think the economy simply needs a lot of help from Washington, and I think both sides of the aisle are going to have to come together,” he remarked, pointing to likely bipartisan support for wind energy projects in the Midwest, and carbon capture and nuclear power in other parts of the country.
Aside from the stimulus package, Bordoff noted the Biden-Harris Administration will have a number of other policy tools at their disposal to address climate change, including rolling back some of the Trump Administration’s Executive Orders, issuing new Executive Orders, and through smart and effective regulation of local pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
“There is that executive authority agenda, and still, hope springs eternal that there may be an opportunity at some point to work across the aisle on legislation,” he said, citing recent remarks by Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Murkowski in which they spoke about the possibility of establishing a national carbon price as one part of comprehensive energy legislation. “I think a well-designed carbon price can do a lot more than many people appreciate, complemented by a range of other tools, to address our market failures.”
Beyond the domestic climate change agenda, Bordoff also emphasized the need for the United States to reengage with its allies on climate policy, beginning with Biden’s promise to rejoin the Paris Agreement shortly after he assumes office.
“One of the things that really gets me excited about the potential to make progress on climate in the Biden-Harris Administration is that he has such deep experience in international affairs and takes so seriously the need to rebuild American leadership and cooperation with our allies in the world,” he said. “This is the most global of problems. Every ton [of CO2 emissions] contributes equally to the problem and 85 percent of the emissions come from outside the U.S., so we are not going to solve this problem unless we engage in and elevate the importance of climate change in all of our matters of foreign policy and diplomacy.”
Following the one-on-one discussion with Stavins, Bordoff fielded questions from many of the 200 participants viewing the Forum, eliciting his thoughts on issues ranging from environmental justice to international trade.
This series, HPCA Conversations on Climate Change and Energy Policy, features leading authorities on climate change policy, whether from academia, the private sector, NGOs, or government. The next Virtual Forum will be held in January, 2021. You will be able to register in advance for this event on the HPCA website.
A transcript of the webinar is available here.