The results of the second round of the Senate elections in Georgia give the Democratic Party control of both houses of Congress, thus easing the way for President-elect Joe Biden to make progress on his ambitious climate agenda, at least over the next two years .
The double victories of Democratic candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock – which seemed highly unlikely just a few weeks ago – put Vice President-elect Kamala Harris in a position to break the tie in a chamber that is now divided 50- 50. They will also raise Democrat Chuck Schumer as Senate Majority Leader and has given Democrats responsibility for the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the Environment and Public Works Committee and other capable legislative groups to advance climate policies.
Biden will find it much easier to quickly get his Cabinet appointments and other political appointments in charge of crucial departments such as the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency. That, in turn, could help the incoming administration restore crucial environmental regulations more quickly that Trump challenged or rescinded. Strategies for doing this include issuing executive orders, stopping legal challenges, and other steps.
The Democratic majority, however, is too narrow to easily overcome the 60 votes needed to end a Senate filibuster. This will almost certainly prevent moving to the more ambitious climate policies, like a substantial carbon tax, a federal cap-and-trade program, or an energy standard that mandates rapid cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.
Still, it will become considerably simpler to put legislation to a vote than under Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who held a notorious hold over his caucus and prevented any action that could grant Democrats victories. This could allow energy and climate bills to move forward where there is some level of bipartisan support, including those that provide funding or support for carbon capture and removal, nuclear power. next-generation, long-distance transportation and clean energy research and development. .
In addition, the change in power increases the chances that additional economic stimulus or infrastructure bills will be passed, and they could include more funding for research and development. Democrats could also reverse many of the current administration’s wave of last-minute regulatory changes – some designed to block the new government’s progress – with a simple majority of votes under what’s known as the Congressional Review Act, like the New York Times noted.
Meanwhile, there might be opportunities to temporarily enact certain climate policies as part of the so-called budget reconciliation process, in which measures are adopted by simple majority and within a time frame. strictly limited debate, says Josh Freed, Climate and Energy Program Manager at Third Way. , a center-left think tank in Washington, DC. The catch is that this process can essentially only change taxes and spending, and the two typically have to balance out within a 10-year budget window.
But one explaining Vox earlier noted that climate policies pushed through the reconciliation process could include a federal green bank that finances clean infrastructure projects but pays for itself through a temporary carbon tax. (Again, however, the slim Democratic victory would almost certainly not allow for a high victory.)
Finally, democratic control of Congress could make it much more likely that the Biden administration could coordinate rapid and meaningful progress on the pandemic and economic recession. This should help solve climate problems at least indirectly, as the nation absolutely must face its most pressing crises before it can truly direct its attention, resources and political will to the impending giant.