President-elect Joe Biden proposed an ambitious climate plan during his campaign, and now that the election is over environmentalists have begun to think through how different elements of his plan can be accomplished. One complication is that we will not know which party will control the Senate until January, a political reality that will have significant influence on how much of President-elect Biden’s climate plan he will be able to enact. However, even if passing climate legislation becomes more difficult, there are still a range of executive actions that President-elect Biden could take in his first 100 days to protect the environment. The New York League of Conservation Voters is of course particularly focused on how these proposals would impact New York.
On transportation, a Biden EPA could significantly strengthen vehicle efficiency standards, reducing transportation emissions and setting the stage to require all new automobiles sold to be zero emission in the next 10-15 years. On energy efficiency, the Biden Administration could set strict new appliance efficiency standards, which would not only help us reach our renewable energy goals but would also save Americans money on their utility bills by reducing the amount of energy it takes to power things like refrigerators, air conditioners, televisions, and video game consoles.
The EPA also has broad authority to tackle methane emissions, which are many times more potent than carbon in the greenhouse effect. Although methane can enter the atmosphere in many ways, one of the most concerning is leaks from old oil and gas wells and the pipelines that transport natural gas between states and through cities. The Biden Administration could take steps to strictly limit these so-called “fugitive emissions,” requiring oil, gas and utility companies to take responsibility for leaks.
The federal government has a large presence in New York, including sizable offices in Manhattan for many federal agencies. This is in addition to the courthouses, post offices, and other outposts that it owns throughout the state. With the stroke of a pen, President-elect Biden could require new energy efficiency standards for these buildings, require new vehicle purchases to be zero emission, and explore renewable energy technologies like rooftop solar and geothermal heating and cooling.
Of course, the President-elect and his team are planning many other executive actions to protect our environment, and NYLCV will track them as they are signed. We expect 2021 to be a year in which the federal government takes decisive action to help New York State achieve its nation-leading climate goals.