In my previous blog post, earlier this week, I offered my personal views regarding “What Do the 2020 U.S. Election Results Portend for Climate Change Policy?” Today, I’m pleased to turn to the views of someone else, Jason Bordoff, a well-informed academic lawyer, who spent considerable time in important climate-policy positions in the Obama administration, and who I assume (and hope, but no hints have been forthcoming from him) will be a candidate for key energy-climate-policy positions in the Biden-Harris administration.
My conversation (interview) with Jason is the most recent webinar in our series, Conversations on Climate Change and Energy Policy, sponsored by the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements (HPCA). As you know, in this webinar series we feature leading authorities on climate change policy, whether from academia, the private sector, NGOs, or government. Jason Bordoff has had significant experience in three of those realms: academia, government, and NGOs. A video recording and transcript of the webinar are available here.
The ultimate professional compliment that I can offer someone after having read something they’ve written is to think to myself, “Gosh, I wish I had written that.” There are two people about whose work I’ve thought that regularly, and neither is an economist like me. One is a political scientist – David Victor at the University of California, San Diego, with whom I engaged recently in my podcast, as described in a previous post at this blog. The other is a lawyer, Jason Bordoff, my guest in yesterday’s webinar
Jason is the Founding Director of the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, where he is Professor of Professional Practice. In the Obama administration, from 2009 to 2013, he served as Special Assistant to the President, and Director for Energy and Climate Change at the National Security Council, and before that, he was at the National Economic Council and the Council on Environmental Quality. Prior to joining the administration, he was the Policy Director of the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution, which is where, I believe, we originally met, when I was commissioned to write a proposal – intended for the incoming Obama administration – for a U.S. cap-and-trade system to address climate change. So, it was a great pleasure for me to welcome Jason to our series, “Conversation on Climate Change and Energy Policy” (with both of us displaying our relatively recent COVID beards).
In our discussion, Jason maintains that 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. Now is the time to make investments that both help the economy today and help to deliver economic returns in future investments in infrastructure.”
He uses 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.”
Jason Bordoff admits 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 notes 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 Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), have called for the same. Indeed, Jason notes, 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 remarks, 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 notes that 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 promulgating 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 says, 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 emphasizes 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 President-Elect Biden 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. “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.”
Finally, following our one-on-one discussion, Jason Bordoff fielded questions from a number of the 200 participants viewing the Forum, eliciting thoughts on issues ranging from environmental justice to international trade. All of this and more can be seen and heard at this website. I hope you will check it out.
Previous webinar in this series – Conversations on Climate Change and Energy Policy – have featured Meghan O’Sullivan’s thoughts on Geopolitics and Upheaval in Oil Markets, Jake Werksman’s assessment of the European Union’s Green New Deal, Rachel Kyte’s examination of “Using the Pandemic Recovery to Spur the Clean Transition,” Joseph Stiglitz’s reflections on “Carbon Pricing, the COVID-19 Pandemic, and Green Economic Recovery,” and Joe Aldy reflecting on “Lessons from Experience for Greening an Economic Stimulus.”
The next HPCA Conversation on Climate Change and Energy Policy will take place in January. Please register in advance for that event at the HPCA website.