Biden's environmental policy will be bad. But not as bad as Democrats want

Climate change has been a crucial issue for years now, and, after four years of President Trump’s inaction, both sides of the political aisle expect big moves from Joe Biden on the topic.

While conservatives are afraid of radical reforms the Biden administration might make, liberals are looking forward to extreme action. Both are wrong. We’re going to have a boring four years on this front. And boring, in this case, is good. 

President-Elect Biden has been under intense pressure by liberal environmental advocacy groups such as the Sunrise Movement and Justice Democrats to carry out a laundry list of demands when picking his Cabinet. These groups want Elizabeth Warren for Treasury, New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland for Interior, for Labor, and more — all in order to set up for Green New Deal-style climate action.

Mr. Biden’s transition team members, however, along with his proposed White House officials indicate that he’s unlikely to take any sort of radical environmental action. His transition team consists mostly of Obama-era veterans and people like Louisiana Rep. Cedric Richmond, the soon-to-be adviser in the White House Office of Public Engagement. The Biden administration will certainly expand government, but no more than any other Democratic administration would. Government expansion under a Biden administration won’t be on the scale that most Democrats want and most Republicans fear.

And that’s not the only thing standing in the way of a Green New Deal. With a divided government and a Republican Senate (for now), the odds of a cabinet pick along the lines of what the Sunrise Movement wants — for Labor Secretary, for instance — are slim to none. A far-left climate bill is even less likely.

That’s not to say that the government won’t take environmental action. Congress has taken bipartisan action before; just look at the Great American Outdoors Act from earlier this year.

More worrying than the pressure for Mr. Biden to set up for a Green New Deal are the powers the executive branch possesses that can be exercised without the approval of Congress. Agencies like the Council on Environmental Quality, Department of the Interior and Bureau of Land Management allow the president powers to take actions that affect the environment, land management and the economy, with next to no oversight.

But the conventional team Mr. Biden has picked makes this, too, seem unlikely. 

Looking at the list of officials, it reads like a laundry list of boring, administrative bureaucrats: Kevin Washburn, the former assistant secretary of Indian Affairs, Elizabeth Klein, a member of the Department of the Interior under both Presidents Clinton and Reagan, Arun Majumdar, the inaugural director of the Advanced Research Projects — Energy, Sharon Burke, an sssistant secretary of Defense under the Obama administration, and the list goes on.

For the record, that’s not a bad thing. A boring Cabinet likely means a boring policy platform. There will be regulations, and there will likely be expansion of restrictions on emissions and fossil fuels. But there won’t be, as AOC and her ilk want, extreme programs; there won’t be a universal jobs guarantee or the replacement of every building in the United States. 

The energy sector has its own representatives in the Biden administration. Take, for instance, Cedric Richmond, a congressional representative from Louisiana who has been tapped as the new director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, which works to coordinate the White House with public interest and advocacy groups. Mr. Richmond has received slightly more than $340,000 from the oil and gas sector, according to OpenSecrets. 

Similarly, Mr. Biden named John Kerry as his “climate czar,” a Cabinet-level position. While Mr. Kerry has had a role in climate change activism, his tenure as secretary of State saw the export of American fracking techniques overseas, and was a strong champion of the expansion of the shale oil sector in general. That’s hardly the profile of a man who is chomping at the bit to enact a Green New Deal.

Listen, will Mr. Biden regulate and restrict business in an effort to curb climate change? Of course he will. Will Mr. Biden expand the size of government as he does so? Of course he will. And these regulations and restrictions likely will have a negative impact upon the economy.

But they won’t be nearly as restrictive as Democrats wanted or as Republicans feared. Every sign from the incoming administration points to an administration of moderation. And with a Democratic administration, that’s as good as we’re ever going to get.

• Sam Rutzick is a contributor to Young Voices and a graduate of Columbia University. His writing has appeared in the Baltimore Times, Spiked! Magazine and Reason Magazine.

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