A political sea change

How the Georgia runoff vote and President-elect Biden's department appointees will shape the next four years of environmental policy.

The post-election mood of the country is predictably fuzzy: euphoria among Biden followers, denial in MAGALand, and here in my home state of Georgia, a bit of shock that two Senate races may determine the nation's—and the Biden presidency's—fate.


Two Democrats who have never held office—Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock—battled two incumbent Republicans—David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler—in close races that triggered runoff votes on Jan. 5. Should Ossoff deny Perdue a second term and Warnock defeat Loeffler in a special election, the Democrats can squeak by and control the U.S. Senate.

A double victory for the Dems would leave a Senate of 50 Republicans, 48 Democrats, and two Independents who caucus with the Dems, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris standing by to break tie votes. In other words, the thinnest of Democratic majorities, but maybe the biggest of opportunities.

Biden has pledged to restore U.S. participation in the Paris Climate Accord on his first day in office. His Department of Energy and other agencies can cold-start programs buried by President Trump. This week, Trump sacked Michael Kuperberg, head of the U.S. Global Change Research Program, which played a key role in coordinating far-flung U.S. agencies' climate science and policy.

So who will run the Environmental Protection Agency in a Biden Administration? One possibility is Heather McTeer Toney, an Obama-era EPA Regional Administrator. McTeer Toney has said she would elevate efforts on environmental justice.

Others said to be under consideration are longtime California air pollution czar Mary Nichols and Washington State Governor Jay Inslee. Both are mentioned in an exhaustive pre-election survey by Kevin Bogardus of E&E News. Inslee is also mentioned as a possible Energy Secretary, as is Ernest Moniz, DOE Secretary for Obama.

Speculation on Biden's Interior Secretary has focused on Deb Haaland, just re-elected to her second Congressional term. Haaland, who describes herself as a 35th-generation New Mexican, would be the first Native American cabinet member in history. Another option is Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, who abandoned a long-shot presidential bid and lost a race to unseat Montana Senator Steve Daines.

Then there are the Trump rollbacks to benefit industry that industry never asked for, and doesn't necessarily even want. Last week, Royal Dutch Shell called for a cancellation of Trump's rollback of methane emissions from fracking operations (yes, you read that right).

Two years ago, the Administration proposed freezing Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency (CAFE) standards after 2020. The Obama standards would have progressively tightened fuel efficiency through at least 2025, which the big automakers were fine with.

Behind a public pledge to Drain The Swamp, President Trump installed heads of the Interior and Energy Department and EPA who were openly hostile to their agencies' missions. None of the three lasted Trump's full term, but each—Ryan Zinke, Rick Perry, and Scott Pruitt—left deep scars in federal policy on environment, energy, and climate.

Biden will have his hands full, and if the Dems fail to oust Mitch McConnell and the Republicans from control of the Senate, he'll have an even more difficult time.

Peter Dykstra is our weekend editor and columnist and can be reached at pdykstra@ehn.org or @pdykstra.

His views do not necessarily represent those of Environmental Health News, The Daily Climate or publisher, Environmental Health Sciences.

Banner photo: President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. (Credit: Joe Biden/flickr)

insideclimatenews.org

Big banks make a dangerous bet on the world's growing demand for food

While banks and asset managers are promising to divest from fossil fuels, they are expanding investments in high-carbon foods and commodities tied to deforestation.

Get our Good News newsletter

Get the best positive, solutions-oriented stories we've seen on the intersection of our health and environment, FREE every Tuesday in your inbox. Subscribe here today. Keep the change tomorrow.

www.post-gazette.com

In call for environmental justice, Biden's climate agenda reaches into neighborhoods

Mr. Biden's executive order to emphasize environmental justice — beyond his orders to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline and block new oil and gas drilling leases on federal lands — could reverberate in the Pittsburgh region.

www.alleghenyfront.org

Coal, gas given center stage by Pennsylvania lawmakers, even Democrats

At recent hearings in Harrisburg, fossil fuel reps told lawmakers that coal and gas are part of the climate solution. Some Democrats agree.
www.alleghenyfront.org

Groups want fracking waste included in health study

Fracking waste can be radioactive. Advocates want it included in a pair of state-sponsored studies into fracking and childhood cancer, asthma, and poor birth outcomes.

First Person: Melissa Burnett, community forestry fellow, helps make Pittsburgh greener

"A lot of Black communities don't really have time or the money to prioritize getting trees. And then other communities have an abundance of trees and they're large and big and healthy.”

Can the market save the planet? FedEx is the latest brand-name firm to say it’s trying.

FedEx aims at becoming carbon neutral by 2040. It will invest $2 billion to start buying electric vehicles for its fleet of 180,000 vehicles and it will donate $100 million to the Yale Center for Natural Carbon Capture.

www.nytimes.com

Joe Roman: America’s new whale is now at extinction's doorstep

Just 50 or so remain, eking it out in the Gulf of Mexico off the Florida coast.