Forgot password?
Sign up today and your first download is free.

The Insider

President-elect Joe Biden’s election victory has environmentalists and Democrats pushing for the next administration to adopt an aggressive environmental agenda including novel pollution reduction efforts beyond traditional command-and-control regulation, but the fate of such innovative measures is unclear given a likely divided Congress that could stymie the most ambitious plans.

As such, Biden will face questions about how his administration will be able to accomplish goals such as promoting sustainability and targeting multiple pollutants at once.

Inside EPA’s Environment Next Insider summarizes our recent exclusive coverage of novel approaches to environmental protection, including voluntary programs, state-led efforts and work at other agencies that could help Democrats sidestep limits on EPA’s authority in the coming years.

Environment Next is a free service to our subscribers, featuring wide-ranging looks at coming developments for environmental protection and policy -- including interviews, in-depth reporting, and profiles of key figures, companies and other groups that are reshaping regulation and private governance on air, water, waste and climate change. The features offer a new way of reporting about the shift from command-and-control regulation to innovative, market-based measures and other efforts, including voluntary programs and government action outside EPA’s purview.

As our David LaRoss wrote before the Nov. 3 election, the newly cemented 6-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court is likely to block any future expansive interpretation of EPA’s powers under existing law, uphold Trump-era rollbacks, and potentially narrow or overturn past rulings on the agency’s authority.

That might shift Biden’s focus to achieving environmental goals through new legislation. But Congress is set to feature one of the narrowest House majorities ever for Democrats and a Senate that could range anywhere from 52-48 in favor of Republicans to 50-50 depending on the result of two Jan. 5 runoff elections in Georgia. That’s far from the decisive margins in both chambers that would allow Democrats to push through their agenda without GOP votes.

Instead, lawmakers are likely to seek rare areas of common ground on environmental issues, which could start with clean energy initiatives like carbon capture that, as our David Clarke writes, have won support from both parties:

From The Editor: Net Zero ‘Virtually Impossible’ Without CCS? Fighting Words For Critics
Supporters of carbon capture and storage (CCS) say achieving the goal of “net zero” greenhouse gas emissions in the United States will be “virtually impossible” without promoting CCS and carbon use technologies -- but those are fighting words for environmentalists and other critics who say carbon capture exacerbates pollution from fossil fuels.

Expectations are high that the incoming Congress next January will make a push for clean energy legislation, and the fight over merits of CCS is emerging as an early flashpoint in that effort.

A 2007 Massachusetts Institute of Technology advisory panel report concluded CCS is “the critical enabling technology to reduce CO2 emissions significantly while allowing fossil fuels to meet growing energy needs.”

But many environmentalists made clear their opposition to CCS in September, when more than 100 groups attacked a House bill known as the Clean Economy Jobs and Innovations Act, which has provisions for more than $15 billion for CCS demonstration and commercialization, as well as carbon dioxide removal technologies.

In a Sept. 23 letter to Congress, the groups condemned the bill, saying it relied on “ineffective gimmicks” like CCS that -- despite “hype about carbon capture’s role in achieving ‘net zero’ emissions” -- capture CO2 from fossil fuel smokestacks largely for enhanced oil recovery in U.S. oil fields, “which simply furthers the dirty energy footprint of CCS."

But not all environmental groups oppose CCS, with support from some organizations -- including the Natural Resources Defense Council -- at odds with critics including Greenpeace. And opponents of CCS appear to face a steep uphill battle given the support for the technology in the House energy bill and elsewhere.

Other observers see gains for electric vehicles (EVs) as all but inevitable, including environmental consultant Dana Lowell:

Interview: Research Shows Inevitable Significant Growth In U.S., Global EV Markets
Governmental and business efforts to tackle climate change combined with battery price declines are creating momentum for major growth in the U.S. and global electric vehicle (EV) market despite “significant headwinds” facing EVs, according to research from a top representative with the consulting firm M.J. Bradley & Associates.

“It appears the auto industry has finally embraced electrification,” says Lowell, a senior vice president and technical director with the leading environmental consultancy based in Concord, MA.

The fate of EVs is becoming an increasingly important issue as transportation has overtaken power plants as the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, prompting Democrats to introduce draft legislation to phase out liquid fuels in favor of EVs and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles that has drawn strong opposition from biofuels groups. Some former top EPA officials believe EVs and environmental justice could be major developments that will reshape evolving environmental policies.

Lowell says “Certainly, there are headwinds, and there’s still a lot of progress to be made,” but the auto industry is starting to take EVs seriously, making significant financial investments and introducing new electric models. With policy pressures in Europe and U.S. states, such as California, Oklahoma, Colorado, and others, “things are starting to come together” and an electric transportation future “will happen,” Lowell says, citing the conclusions of a September 23 study, “Electric Vehicle Market Status -- Update,” that he co-authored and conducted for the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

Yet how much ground for compromise actually exists between the two parties remains in doubt, especially after the Trump administration demoted Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Chairman Neal Chatterjee following his limited embrace of rules that promote lower-emitting energy, including state carbon pricing:

Demotion Of FERC’s Chatterjee Creates Questions About Policy Priorities
President Donald Trump’s decision to demote Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Chairman Neal Chatterjee is creating questions about the fate of several major FERC policy priorities, including nascent efforts to integrate state carbon pricing programs into utility markets and measures to promote low-carbon power.

The uncertainty about the commission’s climate agenda may be relatively short-lived following Biden’s defeat of Trump in the Nov. 3 election.

FERC Commissioner James Danly is taking over as chairman after the Trump administration Nov. 5 demoted Chatterjee, a move the former chairman says may have been driven by his efforts to allow state carbon prices in wholesale markets.

“I have obviously been out there promoting a conservative market-based approach to carbon mitigation and sending signals the commission is open to considering a carbon price, and perhaps that led to this,” Chatterjee told the Washington Examiner. “Quite frankly, if in fact this was retribution for my independence, I am quite proud of that.”

At the state level, environmentalists are touting New Jersey’s newly enacted law limiting single-use plastics and paper goods as a model for others looking to act on plastic waste in the absence of federal policymaking:

Environmentalists praise New Jersey’s tough single-use waste ban bill
Environmental groups are commending New Jersey’s adoption of what they say is the country’s most aggressive law to limit waste from single-use plastics and other goods and a model for other states to act on the issue -- efforts that are more likely with Congress and the White House expected to remain divided after the Nov. 3 elections.

New Jersey Gov. Philip Murphy (D) on Nov. 4 signed S. 864, barring as of May 2022 the use of single-use plastic and paper bags in all stores and food service businesses statewide, as well as disposable food containers and cups comprised of polystyrene foam. It also limits food service businesses to providing plastic straws by request only, as of November 2021.

“Plastic bags are one of the most problematic forms of garbage, leading to millions of discarded bags that stream annually into our landfills, rivers, and oceans,” Murphy said in a Nov. 4 press release. “With today’s historic bill signing, we are addressing the problem of plastic pollution head-on with solutions that will help mitigate climate change and strengthen our environment for future generations.”

And seven environmental groups, including Beyond Plastics and Clean Ocean Action, praised the state’s action as a marker for a “paradigm shift” away from single-use goods and said the stringent bill vindicates Murphy’s decision to veto weaker legislation in 2018 that would only have set a fee on plastic, and which they charge would have diminished efforts to reduce waste.

“It was well worth the wait,” Amy Goldsmith, with Clean Water Action, said in a joint press release from those groups. “New Jersey is now leading the paradigm shift away from single use disposables to reusables.”