President Biden has made some encouraging modest steps on climate change in his first weeks in office. He’s rejoined the Paris climate accords; canceled the Keystone XL pipeline; and issued new executive orders restricting fossil fuel development on federal land, undoing Trump’s cuts to emission regulations, and so on.
Currently the Biden administration is focused on getting the urgently needed coronavirus relief package passed. But already the next round of potential legislation is under discussion. The logical candidate would be a massive green investment package to fight climate change and provide jobs, and reportedly some voices in the administration and among congressional Democrats are pushing in this direction. Whether Biden can get behind such a plan, and design and implement it well, may determine if his presidency is remembered as a success.
As Noam Scheiber writes in The New York Times Magazine, Democratic policymakers and economists have been dusting off part of Franklin Roosevelt’s old New Deal playbook. The slogan in the 1930s was “relief, recovery, and reform,” and it’s the second word getting attention now (the first, of course, applies perfectly to the pandemic). The basic idea is to use government regulations and money to kick-start a surge of new American investment in zero-carbon manufacturing and infrastructure — solar panels, wind turbines, batteries, electric vehicles, and so forth — both directly through state action and by standing up a green infrastructure bank to leverage private capital. This would slash emissions by replacing carbon-fueled infrastructure and also provide millions of good-paying jobs that will revitalize left-behind communities in the process.
Essentially, we’re talking about the basic framework of the Green New Deal, despite Biden disavowing the specific plan put forward by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others during the 2020 campaign (which included many more radical ideas as well).