President-elect Joe Biden has made no secret that tackling climate change will be one of his top priorities. But to enact his platform to reduce global warming he may find an unexpected ally: Republicans.
Biden campaigned on the most ambitious climate agenda in history: one that included plans for pioneering green energy and infrastructure projects and proposals to address environmental racism. Large chunks of his “Build Back Better” economic agenda are explicitly tied to climate-related policies.
Biden has said he will re-enter the U.S. in the Paris climate accord on his first day in office and will prioritize undoing dozens of environmental regulatory rollbacks put into place by President Donald Trump — all via execution action.
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But what comes after that will be the hard part: trying to implement his climate agenda through legislation.
And that’s where he may find a partnership with Republicans on Capitol Hill.
While some in the GOP remain in steadfast denial that human-caused climate change even exists, dozens of Republican lawmakers have acknowledged that the time has come to address the crisis and have put forward policies that have gained some degree of bipartisan traction.
None, however, have approached the level of reform Biden has proposed. As a result, his administration will have to deftly maneuver balancing the major progressive climate actions he’s promised with his desire to reach bipartisan solutions and promote political unity — something he’s also promised.
Interviews with lawmakers from both parties and climate advocacy organizations on both ends of the political spectrum suggest the appetite in both parties for climate change policy is robust, making the topic a likely, even if unexpected, area for bipartisan cooperation under the new president.
Much of how Biden might navigate the issue remains tied up in two closely watched Senate runoff elections in Georgia next month. If Democrats win both, they win control of the chamber, and with it, leadership posts of pivotal climate-oriented committees, which would give Biden a leg up in setting the rules of the road on the issue. But if Democrats fall short, Republicans will maintain Senate control, and with it, the ability to advance their own climate bills.
Either way, whatever majority exists will be a narrow one, making bipartisan compromise, desired or not, the only way forward on legislation.
“We see a huge opportunity going into this administration,” said Quillian Robinson, a spokesperson for the American Conservation Coalition, a nonprofit that advocates for conservative solutions to climate change. “Divided government may look like it eliminates opportunity, but, really, it’s a chance for durable climate solutions, instead of just flip flopping from one administration’s executive orders to another’s.”
Opportunities for compromise
Biden has promised to rejoin the Paris climate agreement, to sign executive orders that limit oil and gas drilling on public lands and in public waters, increase gas mileage standards for vehicles and block the construction of specific fossil-fuel pipelines. He can do all of that through executive action.