On January 20, Joe Biden will be sworn in as president of the United States. Once he takes the oath of office, he will head to the executive branch with at least two years of Democratic control in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. The majority may be slim, but it's a Democratic majority nonetheless.
In addition to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Biden will inherit another international disaster. Climate change, having been alternatively ignored and actively fueled by the outgoing administration, has reached a crisis point, and the danger is only heightened with each day of inaction.
With control of both houses of Congress and the White House, it is time for Democrats to finally make good on their promises of addressing the issue. There is no time remaining for half-measures, compromises, or bipartisan solutions. Things are bad right now and getting worse.
Over the last four years, the Trump administration has effectively used the office of the president and executive orders as a battering ram. With the stroke of a pen, Trump managed to open up federal lands for oil drilling, including areas that had previously been protected, like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He ended rules that required environmental reviews to determine the impact of infrastructure projects. He pulled the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement, essentially de-committing the country from doing its part to stave off the worst effects of climate change. In total, Trump reversed more than 100 environmental laws during his time in office.
During that time, Democrats often spoke out about the existential threat being made consistently worse by Republicans. With a science skeptic and climate change denier holding the highest office in the land, and GOP control of the Senate, Democrats were able to grab hold to the claim of being the "party of science" by simply stating facts. Hearing politicians acknowledge that climate change is real and caused by human activity, as is the scientific consensus, felt at times refreshing or even bold.
But now, with control of the federal government and both houses of Congress, words aren't going to be enough. Joe Biden and his fellow Democrats can no longer simply say the right thing. They have no obstacles in their way, save for a rowdy minority party that should be licking its wounds following Trump's drubbing in the general election and the two unexpected losses in the Georgia Senate races. Even if they are directionless with Trump out of power, Republicans will surely find enough common ground among one another to object to sweeping and dramatic legislation or executive action put forth by President Biden or by the Democratic majority in Congress. Those objections will likely be loud and consist of a considerable amount of grandstanding, but they are also feckless. Democrats are in control, and it's time to actually act.
During his campaign, Joe Biden put forth a $2 trillion plan for addressing climate change. It includes plans to put the country on "an irreversible path" to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, create a cleaner and more sustainable infrastructure, and create millions of green jobs. With the two Senate seats in Georgia going blue, and both Democratic candidates actively supporting government action on climate change, he should have the votes to actually pass that package in full.
Much like Trump, Biden will also have the executive pen at his disposal. Through executive order, he can set forth an incredibly ambitious environmental agenda and direct government agencies to address climate change. The extent of that action may be up for debate. Perhaps he wants to restore the Obama-era fuel efficiency standards that Trump upended. Maybe he wants to go further and place a federal ban on the sale of fossil fuel-consuming vehicles. Now is the time to make liberal use of executive powers.
Biden has long considered himself a bipartisan dealmaker; the type of politician who likes to reach across the aisle and find compromise to get things done. That impulse even came out as his campaign was posturing on climate policy, floating the idea of finding a "middle ground" approach that could potentially bring Republicans on board. It's time for Biden to set that inclination aside. His party controls the levers of government, and action is needed now. Republicans did not seek a middle ground when rolling back environmental protections. Trump did not reach out to ask how Democrats felt about destroying the EPA regulations. The window for addressing climate change is closing. Let's figure out a way to make sure the planet remains hospitable for human life first, and maybe we can revisit bipartisanship when we know that we aren't all going to die.