CAMBRIDGE MA. – Jody Freeman, the Archibald Cox Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and founder of the School’s Environmental and Energy Law Program, offered both a sharp rebuke of the Trump Administration’s climate policies and a hopeful outlook for the Biden Administration’s clean energy agenda in the newest episode of “Environmental Insights: Discussions on Policy and Practice from the Harvard Environmental Economics Program,” a podcast produced by the Harvard Environmental Economics Program. Listen to the interview here.
Hosted by Robert N. Stavins, A.J. Meyer Professor of Energy and Economic Development at Harvard Kennedy School and director of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program and the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements, Environmental Insights is intended to promote public discourse on important issues at the intersection of economics and environmental policy.
Freeman, who was closely involved in the Massachusetts vs. EPA court case that eventually led – via a U.S. Supreme Court case – to EPA’s endangerment finding, pulled no punches when discussing the prior administration’s impact on environmental and climate policy.
“The Trump Administration unraveled, weakened, or rescinded every climate regulation that the Obama Administration had put in place. And they went beyond that to weaken many other environmental rules too. And so, it's an across-the-board effort to pull environmental protection back as much as possible and weaken the agencies that are responsible for putting rules in place to protect public health and to address climate change,” she said. “In environment, climate, energy, it's really hard to think of a major policy that was left untouched.”
Freeman commended the Biden Administration’s early actions to reverse much of the climate policy damage caused by the previous administration.
“The president signed two sweeping executive orders on climate change within the first month. And they encompass everything you could possibly do with the agencies of the federal government, from how the Treasury Department finances overseas projects to how the Agriculture Department sends money to farmers. The administration is on the hunt for all of the policies that any agency can use to support its clean energy agenda,” she said.
Looking ahead, Freeman expressed doubt that the administration has the necessary votes in Congress to pass any meaningful legislation placing a price on carbon, but short of that, she said, there are many other actions the administration can take on climate and energy policy.
“Presidents like to use executive branch power. So, you can count on the Biden Administration to be trying to deploy all of the levers, all of the tools that it can use. And they include adopting new rules…for power plant emissions of CO2, adopting new rules for cars and truck emissions, adopting sector by sector rules that EPA has the authority to do,” she argued. “There are other agencies too, like the Department of Energy sets appliance efficiency standards. The Department of the Interior regulates extraction of oil and gas on public lands. You've already seen them freeze new leases on public lands, and they're going to favor wind and solar siting on public lands.”
When asked about the negative perception of the fossil fuel industry in the United States, Freeman, who sits on the Board at ConocoPhillips, remarked that there are signs of progress on the horizon.
“I think the industry is in a moment of transition. I do see, for example, the European oil and gas companies are already making pledges and investments in alternative business models,” she said. “By no means are we down the road far enough or fast enough, but you can see that they're starting to think about becoming different kinds of companies over time. And I think the U.S. companies are following suit.”
Freeman’s interview is the 22nd episode in the Environmental Insights series, with future episodes scheduled to drop each month.
“Environmental Insights is intended to inform and educate listeners about important issues relating to an economic perspective on developments in environmental policy, including the design and implementation of market-based approaches to environmental protection,” said Stavins. “We speak with accomplished Harvard colleagues, other academics, and practitioners who are working on solving some of the most challenging public problems we face.”