This represents a break with the past two Democratic administrations, and it flips the issue’s polarity: Climate policy will become no longer about dampening prosperity and chastening growth, but giving people stuff and expanding the economy.
Whether such an effort will be as economically effective as a carbon tax remains to be seen. But for now, at least, it seems more politically palatable.
The White House will not stand in the way of climate policy.
Immediately after the election, I wrote that Biden’s climate policy would be governed less by whom he chooses to lead major agencies, such as the EPA, than by whom he surrounds himself with in the White House—in particular, his economic advisers.
Since then, Biden has responded to this concern more directly than I anticipated. He has hired Brian Deese, who led federal climate policy in Obama’s White House, to direct the National Economic Council. Essentially, Biden named a climate person one of his top economic advisers.
Deese has a singular résumé: He is probably the only alumnus of BlackRock, one of the world’s largest financial-asset managers, who can win the endorsement of Bill McKibben, the godfather of American climate activism. (Deese led BlackRock’s sustainable-investing unit.)
Nor will Deese be the only “climate person” at 1600 Pennsylvania. Biden has appointed Gina McCarthy, one of Obama’s former EPA administrators, to lead domestic climate policy, and John Kerry, the former secretary of state, to serve as a global climate envoy.
My concern, at this point, is no longer that the Biden administration tries to do too little on climate, but that Biden’s many climate advisers will crash into one another on their way into the Oval Office.
The EPA will have a crucial decision to make.
In this all-in climate strategy, the EPA will still spearhead a fair amount of the effort. But its leaders will quickly face an important choice: Should it first try to regulate power plants, or cars and trucks? The answer will set the tone for the rest of the administration.
The most powerful bazooka in the federal government’s arsenal, the Clean Air Act, allows the EPA to directly regulate carbon-dioxide emissions. The EPA is the only federal agency with such clear authority to address the root cause of climate change.
But the Clean Air Act is not an easy weapon to wield. The law sorts every type of air polluter into two categories: “fixed sources,” which do not move (these are factories and power plants), and “mobile sources,” which do (cars and trucks). A landmark piece of Clean Air Act regulation demands the full attention of the agency’s air regulators and takes about one presidential term to study, write, and implement, according to Michael Wara, a legal scholar at Stanford University. So the agency’s new administrator, Michael Regan, will have to decide which category to focus on.