It is now more than two weeks since the November 3rd U.S. election, and 12 days since the Biden-Harris ticket was declared the victor in the electoral college by all of the major news media, but President Trump still refuses to concede, citing (totally discredited) claims that the election was stolen from him by widespread voting fraud. While litigation continues, as well as the war of words, in my most recent podcast, recorded yesterday and released today, we examine the implications of the Presidential and the Congressional elections for climate change policy – both domestic and international.
Usually in my podcast – “Environmental Insights: Discussions on Policy and Practice from the Harvard Environmental Economics Program – I talk with well-informed people from academia, government, industry, or NGOs. But, as I wrote in my blog last week, I worry that advocates and other well-informed people may engage in wishful thinking when making predictions about the next administration’s future climate policy initiatives. It is better for this purpose that I engage with people who are knowledgeable and make it their business to examine such questions objectively – I’m talking about practicing journalists, and not ones from the opinion pages, but rather reporters.
I was therefore delighted to welcome someone whom I greatly respect and with whom I have had the pleasure of working – from my perch in academia – for many years, Coral Davenport, who covers energy and environmental policy for The New York Times from the newspaper’s Washington bureau. You can hear our complete conversation here.
Coral Davenport joined the New York Times in 2013, having first covered environment for Congressional Quarterly, then Politico, and then the National Journal, which is where she was when she and I first spoke. I should note that she began her ascendency in the profession of journalism at the Daily Hampshire Gazette in Hampshire County, Massachusetts, fresh out of Smith College.
Our conversation in the podcast is wide-ranging and nearly comprehensive on the prognosis for climate change policy during the next two to four years, including: how the climate issue may have affected the election outcome; the international dimensions of climate change policy, including the Paris Agreement; the outlook for major climate legislation in the Congress; other, non-climate legislation that can have significant impacts on greenhouse gas emissions, such as economic stimulus packages and infrastructure bills; and regulatory approaches to climate change, including executive orders (Oval Office directives) and rulemaking, as well as the court challenges they may face. That is a great deal of territory, but all of it is covered!
At the outset of our conversation, Coral Davenport credits 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,” she says. “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, Coral expresses 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. She notes, however, that the president is expected to re-commit the United States to the Paris Agreement immediately, 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 says. “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 cites 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 he basically canceled it out. 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.”
Coral also expresses 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.
All of this and much more is found in the latest episode of “Environmental Insights: Discussions on Policy and Practice from the Harvard Environmental Economics Program.” I hope you will listen to this latest discussion here. You can find a complete transcript of our conversation at the website of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program.
My conversation with Coral Davenport is the 17th episode in the Environmental Insights series, with future episodes scheduled to drop each month. Previous episodes have featured conversations with:
- Gina McCarthy, former Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
- Nick Stern of the London School of Economics discussing his career, British politics, and efforts to combat climate change
- Andrei Marcu, founder and executive director of the European Roundtable on Climate Change and Sustainable Transition
- Paul Watkinson, Chair of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
- Jos Delbeke, professor at the European University Institute in Florence and at the KU Leuven in Belgium, and formerly Director-General of the European Commission’s DG Climate Action
- David Keith, professor at Harvard and a leading authority on geoengineering
- Joe Aldy, professor of the practice of public policy at Harvard Kennedy School, with considerable experience working on climate change policy issues in the U.S. government
- Scott Barrett, professor of natural resource economics at Columbia University, and an authority on infectious disease policy
- Rebecca Henderson, John and Natty McArthur University Professor at Harvard University, and founding co-director of the Business and Environment Initiative at Harvard Business School.
- Sue Biniaz, who was the lead climate lawyer and a lead climate negotiator for the United States from 1989 until early 2017.
- Richard Schmalensee, the Howard W. Johnson Professor of Management, and Professor of Economics Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
- Kelley Kizier, Associate Vice President for International Climate at the Environmental Defense Fund.
- David Hone, Chief Climate Change Adviser, Shell International.
- Vicky Bailey, 30 years of experience in corporate and government positions in the energy sector.
- David Victor, professor of international relations at the University of California, San Diego.
- Lisa Friedman, reporter on the climate desk at the New York Times.