What Could the 2020 Election Results Mean for Clean Energy?

Laura Tierney, Director of International Programs, BCSE

On November 12, the BCSE and CEBN, in partnership with CRES Forum, invited four policy experts to join a webinar discussion on the 2020 election results and impacts for the clean energy economy.

Two views from the left came from Nidhi Thakar, Director of Strategy, Portland General Electric and Karen G. Wayland, Ph.D., Principal, KW Energy Strategies – both of whom were Co-Chairs of the Clean Energy for Biden fundraising and advocacy organization during the campaign. John Hart, Co-founder and Vice President, C3 Solutions and Charles Hernick, Vice President of Policy and Advocacy, Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions (CRES) Forum presented views from the right of the political spectrum.

With the presidential election decided for the Democratic ticket of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, the Senate balance-of-power pending a January 5 runoff election, and several House seats still to be tallied, these experts weighed in with their initial reactions.

Reflections on the 2020 election outcomes

“The 2020 election was a rejection of excess – of both the ideology of the Progressive Left and the personal excess of President Trump,” noted John Hart.  Charles Hernick, reflecting on the split ballot votes across party lines that “Americans are certainly interested in a balanced and middle of road approach.”

Taking action on climate change was “front and center” in the Biden campaign and is one of the four pillars of focus for the incoming administration.  Nidhi Thakar added from a utility’s perspective that “new leadership in the White House will provide a better runway from a business perspective to further support innovation, rapid decarbonization through renewables and other technologies.”

What is possible in the lame-duck session of the current Congress?

Panelists called for the passage of the American Energy Innovation Act (AEIA), which has bipartisan support, and for an additional COVID-19 relief bill to include funding for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).  LIHEAP was noted as particularly important to utilities as winter is coming, and the implication that widespread non-payment by customers could jeopardize planned expenditures and investments into clean energy.

What is your assessment of Biden’s plans for climate change and clean energy?

The Biden administration’s approach to clean energy and climate change will be a significant shift from the current administration. Biden’s plan includes a long-term goal to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, and the U.S. return to the Paris Agreement.

The President-elect’s approach, based on his decades of experience in the Senate, is expected to focus on identifying common ground between the political parties on difficult issues.  Karen Wayland also predicts a focus on the nexus between “good governance and building back the role of the agencies,” noting that there has been a massive flight of good talent during the current administration, and that the “agencies have a real opportunity to help the states meet their goals.” The use of executive actions is also expected, to re-implement the 125+ environmental regulations that were rolled back or weakened under the Trump administration.

What is needed to make the Biden administration’s plans work?

Panelists suggested various ingredients for success: a White House body that coordinates climate action across agencies, private sector collaboration on cross-sectoral approaches and financing and investment in the full spectrum of innovation– from the nation’s entrepreneurs to the Department of Energy. The early application of the lenses of diversity, equity and environmental justice on topics such as hiring the federal workforce and taking a closer look at implications of federal climate policy on trade and U.S. competitiveness also proposed. In addition, the federal government’s navigation of relationships with states on energy and climate will require clear coordination to avoid tension on topics such as energy generation in a carbon-constrained world.

The 117th Congress: What Hangs in the Balance?

The 2020 election narrowed the Democrats majority in the House of Representatives. The majority in the Senate is still pending the results of a January 5, 2021 run-off election for the two Georgia senators.  A divided government – between the executive and legislative branch – is a possible outcome and would have an impact on the feasible legislative approaches to climate change and clean energy.

In spite of the remaining uncertainty, the panel offered views on what they expect or hope to see in the next Congress regardless of the balance of power. Those included an expanded discussion on use of market-based mechanisms, such as carbon pricing;  a renaissance of ideas in the Republican party, including competition for leadership on the best message on climate; reform of National Environment Policy Act (NEPA); a faster offshore wind permitting processes; increased flexibility in the grid for transmission projects to bring clean energy from one part of the country to population centers; improvements to the hydropower licensing process; and expanded options for development of renewable energy on federal land.

Watch the recording of the webinar to learn more.