CAMBRIDGE MA. – Even with a new presidential administration in place in January, Coral Davenport, climate desk reporter at the New York Times, says it will still be a heavy lift to pass any meaningful legislation on climate change anytime soon. Davenport shared her thoughts on how climate policy – both domestically and internationally – may be affected by the outcome of this month’s U.S. elections in the latest 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. A transcript of the interview is available 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.
Davenport credited President-elect Biden with tapping into voter sentiment on climate change, and using it to his advantage during the campaign.
“This is the first presidential election with climate change emerging as a top-tier issue, and a lot of that was because Biden as a candidate chose to do that. He chose to bring it up in a way that no other candidate ever has,” Davenport said. “It’s clear that the political calculus had changed on that [issue] and campaign advisers saw it as something that would at least not drive away voters, and could attract and excite other voters.”
Despite the Biden victory, Davenport expressed skepticism that the new administration will muster the support that it needs, both from the left and the right, to pass meaningful energy and climate legislation in the near-term. The president, however, is expected to re-commit the United States to the Paris Agreement immediately, she remarked, which will be one step toward reestablishing U.S. credibility on the issue.
“The U.S. has a long way to go to build back its credibility on the world stage on climate, and I think that the Biden Administration will be received with open arms in the international climate community,” she said. “The Biden Administration, I know from interviewing people on the transition [team] and during the campaign, anticipates from day one starting to move forward aggressively with executive authority to put back in place at least some of the big climate regulations that the Trump Administration rolled back.”
For example, she cited the incoming administration’s likely move to reinstate aggressive vehicle fuel economy standards, which were scaled back by the Trump Administration.
“Trump didn't eliminate it, but he rolled it so far back that essentially basically canceled it out,” Davenport said. “We do expect to see a Biden Administration come in and reinstate it very quickly, probably with some new stronger terms. That one is actually pretty straightforward. The federal government has imposed fuel economy standards for decades. And I don't think it's ever been questioned that it has the legal authority to do that.”
Davenport also expressed some cautious optimism that Congress might agree on a Clean Energy Standard, which would mandate a percentage of zero-carbon sources in the U.S. electricity grid, and for the possibility of green energy components to be folded into a COVID-19 economic relief package and an infrastructure funding bill.
Davenport’s interview is the 17th 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.
Author: Doug Gavel