Anticipated Impacts of 2020 U.S. Election on Climate Policy

There is little time left until the U.S. presidential and congressional elections on November 3rd, an election which people on all sides of the many issues, whether they’re Republicans or Democrats, characterize as an exceptionally important election.  Among the important policy areas that will be affected by the election is the area on which I focus in this blog, namely environmental and energy policy, including of course, climate change policy.

As readers of this blog know, my monthly podcast – “Environmental Insights: Discussions on Policy and Practice from the Harvard Environmental Economics Program – provides a venue for me to chat about policy and practice with knowledgeable people working at the interface of economics, energy, and the environment, whether from academia, NGOs, business, or government.  With the election coming up, it was clear to me that it would be a real service to our listeners, both in the United States and around the world, to talk with knowledgeable people about the election’s implications, both before the election and afterward.  And I realized that for this purpose, rather than talking with someone from academia, government, NGOs, or industry, I should talk with people who make it their business to examine key climate policy questions in a real-world political context on a daily basis, indeed often on an hourly basis.

I’m referring, of course, to practicing journalists.  So, I went to two people who are leaders in the realm of environmental reporting in a meaningful political context, two people whom I greatly respect and with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working – from my perch in academia – for many years.  Specifically, my post-election discussion, which will be in a few weeks, will be with Coral Davenport of the New York Times.  And for our before-election discussion, I’m delighted to say that I was joined by Lisa Friedman, reporter on the climate desk, also at the New York Times.  You can hear our complete discussion here.

Lisa Friedman, who joined the New York Times in 2017, after spending 12 years at Climatewire and E&E News, expressed  her delight with the attention that climate change policy is receiving in this election year, saying that it is “undeniably bigger and more substantive than it has ever been before,” noting, for example, the seven hours of climate change Town Hall discussions hosted by CNN.

“In every election that I have covered, both presidential and midterms, since I’ve been focused on climate change for about 10 or 12 years now, we always ask, ‘is this the election when climate change matters?’ And it does seem that this is the election when climate change matters.”

Friedman points out that the news coverage during this election cycle has demonstrated that the two presidential candidates represent very different views on climate policy.

“The fact that one candidate who calls climate change a hoax, and has been openly antagonistic to climate science, and has moved to roll back climate regulations, is pitted against a candidate who calls climate change an existential threat, makes this a more salient issue to cover,” she says.

If President Trump is re-elected, Friedman explains, Americans can expect more of the same policy positions that he espoused during his first term.

“President Trump has rolled back virtually every regulation that had existed to draw down emissions from power plants, from automobile tailpipe emissions, from the oil and gas sector,” she says. “One of the things that this administration has done that hasn’t gotten as much attention is they have worked to not just roll back regulations, but to roll back the ability to create new regulations. And I think that is something that we’ll see a lot more of.”

Friedman notes that if Vice-President Biden is elected on November 3rd, he will push the country toward more aggressive climate policies, although Congressional support would not be guaranteed.

“Vice President Biden has pledged two trillion [dollars] over four years to boost clean energy, electric automobiles, energy efficient buildings. He has called for eliminating fossil fuel emissions from the power sector by 2035,” she says. “That is going to be a difficult sell to get through the Senate in any configuration.”

Friedman also predicts that a President-elect Biden will likely announce very early that the United States will rejoin the Paris Agreement, from which Trump withdrew U.S. support early in his administration.

“I think you can expect some messaging very early on to the international community to remind them that throughout his campaign, he has pledged at getting back into the Paris Agreement will be a day one promise,” she says. “And then comes the question of thinking … about what US reentry into the Paris Agreement looks like.  Because…getting back into Paris is the easy part.”

The more challenging part, of course, will be specifying a new Nationally Determined Contribution within the Paris Agreement framework.

All of this and more is found in the latest episode of “Environmental Insights: Discussions on Policy and Practice from the Harvard Environmental Economics Program.” Listen to this latest discussion here.  You can find a complete transcript of our conversation at the website of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program.

Friedman’s interview is the 16th episode in the Environmental Insights series, with future episodes scheduled to drop each month. The next episode will feature another New York Times climate desk reporter, Coral Davenport, who will provide a post-election analysis.

My conversation with Lisa Friedman is the sixteenth episode in the Environmental Insights series.  Previous episodes have featured conversations with:

“Environmental Insights” is hosted on SoundCloud, and is also available on iTunes, Pocket Casts, Spotify, and Stitcher.