If she’s elected president, expect former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to wield the power of the executive branch and work with states to address climate change rather than to seek a big solution through Congress, top advisers to the Democratic candidate said Friday.
Her priorities include safeguarding U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan, completing a review of fuel efficiency standards and making gains on methane emissions from the oil and gas sector, Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta said.
"I still hold out the hope that Congress will become a real partner with any president when it comes to climate action," Podesta said, "but the prospects of that, particularly I think in the House, are undeniably still some years off, and this is simply too important to wait for Congress to get with the program."
To track the effects of global warming in the United States, Podesta said that Clinton is contemplating the creation of a "climate map room" in the White House if she’s elected. He also suggested she would select a point person on climate change to coordinate policies across the government.
At the same time, Clinton could embark on a program similar to the Race to the Top fund — which put $3.4 billion on the table for states for reforming education standards — to push states to create industrial clusters to build products that will reduce the U.S. carbon footprint, said Jennifer Granholm, a senior partner on energy policy in the Clinton campaign and former Democratic governor of Michigan. Both Granholm and Podesta spoke Friday at a Stanford University event on climate change.
"Given the Congress appears to be gridlocked and may be gridlocked into the next administration, what can we do?" Granholm said. "Keep calm and go around. What was one of the Obama administration’s most effective policies that caused massive change in states across the nation, voluntary changes? Race to the Top in education."
Clinton’s use of the executive branch would be a continuation of the way the Obama administration has approached climate change in its second term. In June 2013, President Obama announced his Climate Action Plan, which provided the impetus for EPA’s program to reduce carbon pollution from power plants.
That followed an unsuccessful attempt during the Obama administration’s first term to seek a cap-and-trade program from Congress.
Both Podesta and Granholm predicted that Democrats would take the Senate in November and that the House will remain Republican, though some of the most conservative tea party members may be voted out of office.
While a carbon tax remains the climate policy of choice for Clinton, the split Congress would make it unlikely to get such a sweeping economywide "grand climate fix" through to the president’s desk, based on Obama’s experience, Podesta said.
"You can hold a lot of fascinating and persuasive economic seminars about what a carefully designed economywide carbon pricing scheme could achieve," Podesta said, "but it’s just not that simple."
He predicted that climate change is likely to be more debated in this election compared with prior ones given the huge divide between the Democratic candidates and Republican nominee Donald Trump on climate change. Trump has said that climate change is a hoax created by the Chinese.
The elevation of the issue during the election, Podesta predicted, would allow the new president to move swiftly on climate change policies "within the earliest days of the transition."
Both Podesta and Granholm said that a White House point person on climate change is necessary to coordinate activities of all the federal agencies in the areas of climate change and energy. Podesta served as Obama’s top adviser on climate change; Brian Deese currently holds the position.
The climate map room in the White House would be akin to the room in which President Franklin Roosevelt conducted mapping activities during World War II, Podesta said.
"I think she got that idea because she walked back and forth many, many, many times in the ground floor of the residence through the war room," Podesta said.
The room, Podesta said, would allow White House officials "to be able to see where effects are taking place, to develop strategies, to make it real time, to use the technology that might be available — to kind of imagine what is happening in the natural world and what the impact of that’s going to be on the economy and society."
As for policies, the next president, Podesta said, would need to be committed to ensuring that states moving early on the Clean Power Plan’s targets receive support, despite the action by the Supreme Court to stay the program while litigation is resolved.
Energy, transportation sectors
The transportation sector would likely be a key target for emissions reductions, he also suggested. Podesta ticked off fossil fuel leasing on public lands, methane emissions from existing oil and gas operations, and hydrofluorocarbons as other key areas for the next president to look for further greenhouse gas reductions.
With Congress likely to remain divided, Granholm said that Clinton would also likely take the opportunity to work with governors and mayors on climate change and energy.
Clinton has previously proposed a $60 billion challenge to states on clean energy. Granholm outlined some details of the plan Friday.
She said that a Race to the Top-style program would set a baseline for states interested in accessing the money, such as having a strong renewable portfolio standard, energy efficiency financing mechanisms and the latest green building codes.
Governors would then apply for rewards to fund state-specific industries in products to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. In North Carolina, for example, the program may fund utility-scale batteries and biogas, while in Michigan it may fund smart buildings and solar, Granholm said.
Of course, the program would require $60 billion from Congress.
"If you can’t get $60 billion from Congress to challenge the states," Granholm said, "you might have a private-sector challenge to Congress to be able to get to a number that is robust enough that would make the governors jump."
"Believe me — I know them," Granholm added. "They would totally jump at this."
While a grand climate plan likely won’t be possible at least at the beginning of a Clinton administration, her advisers are looking for areas where it may be possible to make some deals: clean energy investment and research.
Dan Reicher, a former assistant secretary of Energy during the Bill Clinton administration, said that there could be "broad bipartisan support" for a long-term research and development financing package in the next administration.
Red states that also have big renewable energy industries — such as Texas, which is the No. 1 wind producer in the nation — could help pave the way for accomplishing energy financing and research goals, Reicher predicted.
"This agenda will get done a lot more quickly if Democrats take both houses," Reicher said, "but I think there’s a decent probability that some of what we need to get done can get done."