Biden stumbles, endangering climate action

Source: By Adam Aton and Scott Waldman, E&E News reporters • Posted: Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Democrats dreamed that the 2020 election would deliver them a broad mandate to kick-start decarbonization across every sector of the economy.

They woke up this morning with smaller hopes.

Though control of the Senate and White House still were unknown as of 5 a.m., it was clear by then that a Democratic landslide forecast in polling averages hadn’t materialized.

No matter the final result, the horizons of possibility appear to have narrowed.

Barring a late sweep in a key races, Democrats likely will struggle to advance transformative energy policy through Congress, while President Trump’s brand of fossil fuel politics remains intact — and could remain in power too.

That’s a long-term political problem for the climate movement. And in the short term, the fragile truce between progressives and moderate Democrats will come under tremendous pressure as both sides seek to explain the electoral shortfall and position themselves for the new balance of power.

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden made his “Build Back Better” clean energy and infrastructure plan a main part of his campaign, and polls showed voters strongly preferred his climate plan to Trump’s fossil fuel advocacy. Although other issues scored higher, surveys indicated Democrats’ biggest edge over Republicans was the environment.

If those polls were correct, then climate change wasn’t influential enough to mobilize or flip enough voters to reshape the electorate.

Instead, Republicans posted some of their biggest gains in climate change hot spots.

In Miami, where sea-level rise floods some neighborhoods on sunny days, Trump was on track to dramatically increase his margins while voters ousted two Democratic House members. And that was after the billionaire climate activist Michael Bloomberg dropped $100 million into the state.

Republicans were also on track to gain ground in Iowa. Trump, who has claimed wind turbines cause cancer, comfortably won the second-biggest wind energy state. And along the Mississippi — which spent nearly 100 days last year above flood stage — Iowa Democrats were at risk of losing two House seats.

In Charleston, S.C., where tidal flooding is projected to strike up to 180 times a year by the 2040s, voters unseated Rep. Joe Cunningham (D) in favor of Nancy Mace (R), who says climate science isn’t settled.

Republicans won those climate-vulnerable areas as the Trump administration formally withdraws today from the Paris climate agreement. While the move was long expected, it signals that the United States has now formally abandoned the world’s efforts against climate change.

Climate scientists have warned that avoiding the worst effects of climate change will require cutting emissions in half by 2030.

A Trump victory would cement the status quo. But without the Senate, a Biden victory might not signal earthshaking changes either. The most ambitious portions of Biden’s climate plans will require legislative action, like decarbonizing the electricity sector by 2035.

Senate Democrats added to their ranks Mark Kelly of Arizona, who counted significant support from environmentalists, as well as John Hickenlooper of Colorado, who has alienated climate hawks by enthusiastically supporting the oil and gas industry.

But Republicans senators held on in Montana and Iowa, leaving Democrats a shrinking window to take the upper chamber. And in the House, Republicans defied expectations by gaining seats.