Energy, climate, and environment are areas where the policy differences resulting from the final outcome of the election also will be particularly stark. On November 4, 2020, President Trump took the final step consummating his pledge to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement. This reflects his early and consistent perspective, embodied in an Executive Order establishing it as official U.S. policy, to remove any impediments to U.S. fossil fuel energy production. It reflects that he and his Administration continue to not fully acknowledge the scientific basis for human-induced climate change, nor to value the importance of U.S. leadership in forging an international solution to this global problem. Trump would continue rolling back the major carbon reduction initiatives undertaken during the Obama Administration, which are now being reviewed by the courts—including, notably, carbon limits and fuel switching for the electric power sector, greenhouse gas emissions limits and fuel economy standards for motor vehicles, and controls over methane leakage from oil and gas production wells and facilities. We would expect a continued further fight with those States—led by California and New York—who are attempting to set their own ambitious emissions standards to achieve Paris Climate reductions.
Vice President Biden has highlighted a starkly different approach when he tweeted in response, “Today, the Trump Administration officially left the Paris Climate Agreement. And in exactly 77 days, a Biden Administration will rejoin it.” This reflects that Vice President Biden and Senator Harris have embraced the need to address climate change as a core part of their agenda—as one of the four great crises America faces—along with the challenges posed by the pandemic, the need for a vigorous economic recovery, and our national recognition of systemic racial injustice. We expect that a Biden Administration will take a series of robust steps from its first day in office to fundamentally change course, the pace animated by crediting new science that says we are now in the last remaining decade for decisive action to prevent vast global climate consequences. Some of these changes may go to the structure of government itself—there has been a lot of discussion about a possible “Climate Cabinet” and a strong White House leadership focus.
On the international front, the Paris statement is emblematic of a likely strong push to reestablish U.S. diplomatic leadership on climate. Domestically, we expect that the major climate regulatory rollbacks will be ended—moving to require by executive action net zero electricity generation by 2035, a robust embrace of electric cars and trucks and tough emissions standards, and careful regulation of natural gas as a bridge fuel.
Since the new Administration would be thinking about this transformation as part and parcel of its Building Back Better economic recovery plans, we also would expect an effort to secure funding for substantial investments to spur new technology—such as an advanced research-type approach for climate that would be known as Advanced Research Project Agency for Carbon (ARPA-C)—and to facilitate greater deployment of renewables, including off-shore wind and green hydrogen, investments in energy efficiency, and efforts to fund new clean infrastructure investments, including in transit and a revived rail system, and furthering climate equity and resilience.
While achieving their campaign plan’s calls for investing $2 trillion over the course of a first Biden four-year term may be an open question and more difficult with a split government, there are areas where we continue to expect a very strong push and perhaps even some room for smaller bore bi-partisan agreement. These include: (i) electric vehicle charging infrastructure to help promote auto sector electric vehicle manufacturing job creation and competitiveness; (ii) enhanced energy storage; (iii) enhanced transmission to facilitate grid modernization, resilience, and the movement and deploy-ability of distributed generation and utility-scale renewables generation; and (iv) a recognition of the importance of negative emissions technologies—such as carbon capture and air removal—given the challenge of meeting the net zero emissions goals.
As a Biden Administration explores the range of executive and administrative powers it has to make progress in this area, one really interesting dynamic to watch will be whether that provokes more engagement on a possible broader bi-partisan alignment around a climate and energy legislative solution in exchange for tempering those more unilateral executive actions, or whether the current contentious political climate makes that simply impossible. And, we would just add that, regardless of what government does, public expectations and focus on business actions over the last several years have grown exponentially, so that there are new expectations and opportunities on enhanced transparency and reporting on carbon emissions, sustainability practices, and carbon intensive investments which will continue, regardless of these outcomes.