President-elect Joe Biden is interpreting the election results as a strong mandate to pursue a variety of promises, including on the environment and climate change, and he’s making moves to start implementing his policies as soon as possible.
Biden named climate as one of his four top priorities in a victory speech Saturday, with aides and supporters saying that’s evidence of how much political capital he’ll spend on the issue, even with Republicans likely to keep the Senate.
"Now this campaign is over, what is the will of people? What is our mandate?" Biden said to an outdoor audience in Wilmington, Del.
"I believe it’s this: Americans have called upon us to marshal the forces of decency and the forces of fairness, to marshal the forces of science and the forces of hope in the great battles of our time: the battle to control the virus, the battle to build prosperity, the battle to secure your family’s health care, the battle to achieve racial justice and root out systemic racism in this country."
During his campaign, the former vice president laid out a series of climate actions he would take on his first day in office, including rejoining the Paris Agreement and setting a 2050 goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.
Biden’s plans also include directing federal agencies to take measures like regulating methane emissions from the oil and natural gas industry, tough new efficiency and greenhouse gas rules for vehicles and halting all new permits for fossil fuel production on federal lands and offshore.
"Throughout the campaign, Joe Biden has noted that there are a number of things that we need to tackle and do and that we will need to start on day one," Biden adviser Symone Sanders said yesterday on CNN’s "State of the Union."
"Yes, that includes addressing the climate crisis," she continued, listing other priorities like the COVID-19 pandemic and systemic racism in policing.
Biden spokeswoman Kate Bedingfield said yesterday on NBC’s "Meet the Press," referring to Biden’s four listed priorities: "The work starts right away. Those are promises he’s campaigned on throughout this entire campaign."
Bedingfield said, "He’s going to begin transition work in earnest this week. He’ll be making calls; he’ll be making announcements to the American people about how he’s going to make good on these campaign promises."
This morning the campaign announced a task force to address issues related to the pandemic.
Trump digs in
Biden’s remarks Saturday came hours after the Associated Press and other major news outlets formally projected him as the winner.
The declaration was made just after a tranche of votes were counted in Pennsylvania, giving AP and other news outlets confidence that Biden had won the Keystone State, and enough Electoral College votes to win the election.
The call was four days after Election Day as officials dealt with record numbers of early and mail-in votes because of the pandemic.
But President Trump has refused to concede the election. He and his allies claim, without evidence, that the election was stolen from him via widespread voting fraud.
One of many Trump tweets said: "Since when does the Lamestream Media call who our next president will be? We have all learned a lot in the last two weeks!"
Trump’s campaign has filed numerous long-shot lawsuits and requested recounts, but so far has seen little success.
Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito ordered Pennsylvania on Friday to segregate ballots that were received in the mail after Election Day — a practice that officials were already employing — in case the courts were to later rule those votes illegal.
"This election is not over. The false projection of Joe Biden as the winner is based on results in four states that are far from final," Trump campaign counsel Matt Morgan said in a statement after the announcements by AP and others.
Morgan said that through recounts or lawsuits, Trump will win in at least Pennsylvania, Nevada, Arizona and Georgia.
Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani plans to file a new complaint today in Pennsylvania. "Many cases are going to be filed, some big, some small. This is going to be eventually a big case, because it will go beyond Pennsylvania," Giuliani said Saturday in Philadelphia.
"There are dead people voting. No question about it," he said. "We get any number of complaints of that. We have a very serious problem with backdating of ballots, including four witnesses now who are testifying to that."
The focus now shifts to Biden’s transition team and how swiftly his administration will move once he is inaugurated in January — including on environmental and climate measures.
Biden is expected to rely on executive orders more than previously anticipated because of the congressional balance of power (Greenwire, Nov. 6).
Control of the upper chamber may depend on two Senate runoffs in Georgia set for January. One is between incumbent Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R) and the Rev. Raphael Warnock (D). The other pits incumbent Sen. David Perdue (R) against challenger Jon Ossoff (D), a former journalist.
Senate contests in Alaska and North Carolina remain undecided, but GOP incumbents Dan Sullivan and Thom Tillis, respectively, remain ahead.
Biden’s early executive actions could include reversing Trump’s decision to significantly shrink several of Obama’s national monument designations, including Bears Ears in southeastern Utah (Greenwire, Nov. 3).
There are other regulatory moves a Biden EPA could make quickly, said Betsy Southerland, who worked at the agency for 33 years before leaving early in the Trump administration. Many policy and guidance documents "can be immediately flipped," she said.
A Biden EPA can also stop work on pending rules, including two set to be finalized in the coming months that Southerland and others view as dangerous.
One would potentially limit consideration of "co-benefits" in setting air standards, making regulations harder to justify.
Then there’s a rulemaking that would restrict the scientific studies upon which EPA can rely in setting standards and other policy decisions.
The Trump EPA’s rollback of nearly 100 environmental and public health rules will also likely be a focus, said Southerland.
Many Trump actions will require full rulemaking to undo, she said, so the Biden EPA will have to decide which warrant a two- to four-year process.
Southerland said Biden’s team will, in many cases, want stronger regulatory action than President Obama took. Biden’s team is "not going to want to just put [rules] back to where they would have been in 2016," she said.
‘We’ll work with him’
Biden’s expected early actions are part of an extensive climate and environmental plan that supporters say is the most aggressive climate platform of any major-party candidate.
It was seen as aiming to accomplish a handful of goals: a sharp repudiation of the Trump administration’s numerous rollbacks, an answer to the increasing awareness of the dire consequences of global warming and a massive economic and employment generator.
At its center is a plan to spend $2 trillion on clean energy and infrastructure, including electricity generation and transmission, electric vehicle charging, energy efficiency upgrades for buildings and climate resilience projects.
Biden has pledged to decarbonize the electric grid by 2035, push world leaders to increase their ambition under the Paris climate agreement, conserve 30% of the nation’s land and end tax breaks for fossil fuel industries.
Bedingfield expressed optimism that some Republican senators would cooperate with Biden. "This is what the American people voted for. This is what they want to see. And so I think for Republican members of the Senate, they’re going to feel that pressure, too," she said on "Meet the Press."
"People want the country to move forward. They want to see President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect [Kamala] Harris move forward on their agenda and have the opportunity to do the work to get the virus under control and to get our economy back together."
At least one GOP senator, Mitt Romney of Utah, said he would keep an open mind. "President-elect Biden has an agenda. We’ll work with him on that agenda," Romney said on "Fox News Sunday."
But if Biden goes too far left, Romney said, he and his colleagues will stand firm. "I don’t think America wants to sign up for the Green New Deal or getting rid of coal and oil and gas or Medicare for All," he said.
The Trump administration is, so far, not allowing Biden’s transition team to formally start the process of transferring power.
General Services Administration chief Emily Murphy, a Trump appointee, hasn’t yet made the formal determination that Biden is the "apparent successful candidate" in the election.
Under the Presidential Transition Act, that means Biden’s team won’t be released certain federal resources set aside for them and can’t send review teams to agencies to prepare them for the new president.
A GSA spokeswoman pointed E&E News to her statement last week that Murphy will make the pronouncement "once a winner is clear based on the process laid out in the Constitution."
"GSA and its Administrator will continue to abide by, and fulfill, all requirements under the law," the spokeswoman said yesterday.
The Center for Presidential Transition, a project of the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service, published a statement yesterday pushing GSA to recognize Biden as the president-elect.
"We urge the Trump administration to immediately begin the post-election transition process and the Biden team to take full advantage of the resources available under the Presidential Transition Act," said the statement, whose signers include Mike Leavitt, a Republican former EPA administrator and Utah governor.
Biden’s transition team noted that the election has been called for the president-elect.
"Now that the election has been independently called for Joe Biden, we look forward to the GSA administrator promptly ascertaining Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as the president-elect and vice president-elect," a transition spokesman told E&E News.
"America’s national security and economic interests depend on the federal government signaling clearly and swiftly that the United States government will respect the will of the American people and engage in a smooth and peaceful transfer of power," the spokesman said.
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), a senior member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, wrote on Twitter that Murphy "must begin the Biden transition without delay."
"The Administrator plays a critical role in the peaceful transfer of power and ensuring vital government services are not disrupted," he wrote.
Biden’s team continued to move forward with transition activities. It filled out a website yesterday with some additional content on Biden’s plans, including a page on climate change.
"At this moment of profound crisis, we have the opportunity to build a more resilient, sustainable economy — one that will put the United States on an irreversible path to achieve net-zero emissions, economy-wide, by no later than 2050," says the website.
"Biden is working to seize that opportunity and, in the process, create millions of good-paying jobs that provide workers with the choice to join a union and bargain collectively with their employers," it says.
Biden’s transition team has not announced any new staff since the election, including the agency review teams that will be tasked with transition efforts at individual agencies.
But the transition team posted on Twitter that it will be "led by experts, by science, and with character — ensuring that we will be ready to lead on Day One."
Biden’s transition effort also includes picking a Cabinet, along with other administration officials, to send to the Senate for confirmation.
Many potential candidates’ names have already been floated. For EPA, the contenders are thought to include California Air Resources Board Chairwoman Mary Nichols, former EPA Southeastern regional chief Heather McTeer Toney and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) (Greenwire, Aug. 24).
For Interior secretary, the main candidates are a trio of New Mexicans: Sen. Tom Udall, Sen. Martin Heinrich and Rep. Deb Haaland (Energywire, Nov. 3). Inslee has also been mentioned as a possibility.
Inslee has also been mentioned as a potential Energy secretary. Others include former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) and former senior DOE officials like Arun Majumdar, Ali Zaidi, Kerry Duggan and Dan Reicher (Energywire, Oct. 5).
Biden is likely to start announcing Cabinet picks before Thanksgiving, according to The New York Times, in line with previous presidents’ schedules.
‘Delivered for Biden’
Environmental groups, which spent unprecedented amounts of money and effort to elect Biden, were quick to congratulate him and say good riddance to Trump.
"This is the end of the toxic, anti-science, anti-environment, racist agenda of the Trump administration — together we defeated the dirtiest president of all time," said Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, which, along with its affiliates, spent $115 million on the presidential race and other 2020 elections.
"And to be clear, this victory would not have happened without people of color who had to overcome historic barriers to voting," he said.
"LCV is so proud to have helped elect President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris, and we can’t wait to work with them to build back better for a more just and equitable clean energy future for all," Karpinski said.
Some were also quick to argue that Biden has a mandate to implement progressive climate policies and warn him against hewing to the center.
"We delivered for Biden, and now it’s his turn to deliver for us," Sunrise Movement co-founder Varshini Prakash said in a statement.
"He must do everything in his power and use every tool at his disposal to immediately address the climate crisis," she said, specifically asking him to create a new position to oversee an "all-government" mobilization on climate.
Industry groups — many of which are openly hostile to Biden’s plans — were also cordial.
"We congratulate and look forward to working with President-elect Biden, Vice President-elect Harris and the next Congress to support America’s economic recovery, which will be built on affordable and reliable American energy," said American Petroleum Institute President Mike Sommers.
Reporter Kevin Bogardus contributed.