President-elect Joe Biden ran and won on the most ambitious climate platform ever put forward by the nominee of a major political party. Biden’s bold vision, which helped him win a majority of votes in the electoral college and received praise from activists, scientists, and elected officials alike, now faces two challenges: a 6-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court and a Senate majority that will be determined by the outcome of two special elections in Georgia. These constraints dictate that much of Biden’s agenda, including his climate policy, will have to implemented administratively.
There are many actions that the Biden administration can take to mitigate climate change that do not require Congress to pass new legislation. Our friends at Evergreen Action have identified literally dozens. We chose the actions we’ve highlighted here because they would be ambitious, effective, and, just as importantly, popular among voters. Which actions he takes—and the story that those actions tell—could have immense consequences for both Biden and his party. At Data for Progress, we simulated how both the public and elected officials in Congress would respond to these executive actions, presenting likely voters with common arguments for and against each proposal and asking them to choose which they preferred. We additionally weighted our polling results to be representative of the 2020 electorate, which delivered Biden his victory, and will be watching closely as Biden begins enacting his agenda.
The following seven executive actions wouldn’t just address the problem of climate change, but would help Democrats position themselves to gain support to continue this fight after 2022:
The federal government is one of the biggest purchasers in the country. Leveraging America’s purchasing power, also known as “procurement,” to increase demand for American-made electric vehicles and green building materials is one of the most popular executive actions that Biden can take. Procurement has the most bipartisan support of all the climate executive actions Data for Progress tested. A full 69 percent of all voters—including a majority of Democrats, independents, and Republicans—support a government-wide directive to prioritize buying sustainable and American-made goods. Using the federal government to encourage the expansion of clean-energy manufacturing would have economy-wide implications and help curb emissions for years to come. Climate-oriented procurement policy is a slam-dunk for Biden.
LAND AND WATER PROTECTION
In June 2020, outgoing Sens. Tom Udall (D-NM) and Michael Bennet (D-CO), along with Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM)—whom Biden has designated as interior secretary—introduced the 30 by 30 Resolution to Save Nature, which calls on the government to conserve 30 percent of America’s lands and waters by 2030. An Executive Order to conserve 30 percent of our land and water by 2030 would amount to a blaring signal that the federal government is ready to take an active role in preserving natural resources and protecting clean air and water for millions of Americans. This proposal enjoys support from an overwhelming majority of voters (63 percent), including a majority of Democrats (86 percent) and independents (65 percent).
GLOBAL CLIMATE SUMMIT
A global climate summit would build upon Biden’s commitment to rejoin the Paris Agreement on the first day of his administration, a promise most voters support, and would demonstrate that the U.S. is ready to resume its leadership role on the global climate stage. U.S. climate leadership would benefit countries that emit minimal quantities of greenhouse gases but suffer the consequences of climate change disproportionately. Hosting a global climate summit is also broadly popular—62 percent of voters support Biden working with other nations to combat climate change and ensuring the U.S. leads the world on the issue. A majority of Democrats (85 percent) and independents (66 percent) support Biden calling this summit. With over a third of Republicans (36 percent) also on board, Biden can feel confident he will have broad support for this idea.
Throughout his term, President Trump has used executive authority to roll back over one hundred environmental rules and regulations, and dozens more are on deck in his final weeks in office. These rollbacks have had far-reaching, harmful consequences on everything from national parks to waterways. Reversing Trump’s environmental rollbacks is a basic and necessary step that the Biden Administration must take to restore confidence in our nation’s regulatory infrastructure and capitalize on the political popularity of these issues. A majority of voters (59 percent), including a majority of Democrats (84 percent) and independents (61 percent), want Biden to restore the rules and regulations that Trump rolled back. With 85 percent of all voters concerned about air and water pollution, Biden should center his messaging on reversing these environmental rollbacks around improving air and water quality for all Americans.
ENVIRONMENTAL-JUSTICE ADVISORY BOARD
Environmental justice has gained salience over the past few years with numerous bills in Congress such as the Climate Equity Act (introduced by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris) and the Environmental Justice for All Act. Establishing an environmental-justice advisory council in the White House to address current and historic environmental injustices would translate this momentum into meaningful policy influence. Such an advisory board would ensure that Biden’s climate policy is informed by the priorities of frontline communities. This proposal is popular among a majority of voters (52 percent), including a majority of Democrats (75 percent) and independents (51 percent). While only a quarter of Republicans support this proposal, Biden has the full backing of his base and should fulfill his campaign promises to the environmental-justice community over conservative objections.
END DRILLING ON PUBLIC LAND
Ending new drilling leases on public lands and waters is one of the most consequential actions Biden could take to curb greenhouse-gas emissions and shrink the political power of fossil-fuel billionaires. In addition, drilling on public lands is a bad deal for American taxpayers: As Sens. Udall and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) point out, fossil-fuel companies have been short-changing the federal government for years on outdated lease terms. Although support for the proposal is above water with both Democrats (69 percent) and independents (56 percent), it’s the least popular proposal we tested with Republicans—only 18 percent of Republicans support it. But that doesn’t mean Biden should dodge this battle (in fact he already committed to it on the campaign trail, which helped him earn the support of climate-motivated voters). Biden should be tactful in his approach and co-opt some of Udall and Grassley’s messaging about the extremely unfair deals fossil-fuel companies have cut with the U.S. government to ensure he keeps this campaign promise in the most popular way possible.
FACTORY FARM EMISSIONS
Factory farms (also known as “concentrated animal feeding operations”) are one of the biggest threats small farms face, and one of the biggest contributors to America’s greenhouse gas emissions, too. Designating emissions from CAFOs as pollutants under the Clean Air Act would curb the influence of these factory farms and shift badly needed federal resources toward small farms. In fact, progressive agricultural and farming policy is one of the most underemphasized and popular policy areas for Democrats to pursue. Data for Progress polling consistently shows that voters across the board are extremely supportive of policies that protect small farmers and their land, and are similarly supportive of regulating emissions from CAFOs. A majority of all voters (52 percent) support this directive, including a majority of Democrats (76 percent) and independents (53 percent). We urge Biden to shift the focus of his agriculture policy toward addressing climate change and helping small farmers.
Even without complete Democratic control of Congress and against a conservative-dominated Supreme Court, Biden has many popular and meaningful policy options at his fingertips. He also has a broad and diverse coalition behind him—environmentalists, youth activists, people of color, labor unions, and more—that he’ll need to deliver material victories for if Democrats hope to maintain and expand their power moving forward.
Danielle Deiseroth (@danielledeis) is the climate data analyst at Data for Progress.
Marcella Mulholland (@x3marcela_) is the deputy director for climate at Data for Progress.
From December 11 to December 13, 2020, Data for Progress conducted a survey of 1,263 likely voters nationally using web panel respondents. The sample was weighted to be representative of likely voters by age, gender, education, race, and voting history. The survey was conducted in English. The margin of error is ±2.8 percentage points.