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A low angle view of a long line of people waitng to vote in the elections.

Climate Action Wins in the 2020 US Election

The long and difficult process of this presidential election is now over. Americans voted in record numbers, a sign of a healthy democracy. With a new president, America is ready to again join the international community in taking action on climate. We look forward to US re-entry into the Paris Agreement as an important step.

Yet no matter who has been president, and no matter which party has dominated the Senate, the commitment to climate action has remained strong across this nation. From cities and states to companies, there are many organizations that remain fully committed to reducing emissions and achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement, as we highlight in our work with Bloomberg on America’s Pledge.

Reviewing election results across the country, there are several notable promising outcomes in states with varying political backgrounds, revealing that clean energy is a truly popular bipartisan issue. Fox News has highlighted that 70 percent of the population would like to see more spending on clean energy. Along with this important point from Bill McKibben on Twitter, we would like to share credit on this blog with Leah Stokes for highlighting many of these outcomes in a recent Twitter thread.

Clean Energy Mandates

First, several jurisdictions passed measures setting clean energy mandates at different levels, focusing either on large cities or statewide. In Ohio, Columbus voted to be powered by 100 percent clean energy by 2023, a truly ambitious timeframe in line with the urgency that the climate crisis requires. Nevada passed a constitutional amendment requiring that the entire state be powered by 50 percent clean power by 2030.

In Wisconsin, the state is moving to retire 1,400 megawatts (MW) of coal and replace it with clean energy, which will benefit the population both economically and through reduced pollution and improved health. Accelerating coal retirements around the country have been driven by both the effective advocacy work of the Bloomberg and Sierra Club Beyond Coal campaign and the rapidly improving economics of clean energy technologies now outcompeting both coal and gas.

Even in just the week prior to the election, several states and companies made additional clean energy commitments, including:

  • Arizona Corporation Commission has approved new regulations to require utilities get half their power from renewables by 2035, then 100 percent from carbon-free sources by 2050.
  • Xcel and Alliant are investing in solar plants in Wisconsin. Xcel Energy intends to buy a 74 MW solar farm in northwestern Wisconsin, while Alliant Energy has plans to purchase two solar plants in southern Wisconsin with 115 MW of capacity.
  • Georgetown University has entered into a 15-year agreement with regional solar plants that will help the university meet more than two-thirds of its energy needs with electricity from solar plants starting in November. The deal will allow the school to purchase 100,000 megawatt-hours of electricity per year.

 

Candidates

Along with clean energy mandates across many different states, voters around the country elected candidates with explicit commitments to address the climate crisis and accelerate the clean energy transition. In Phoenix, Yassamin Ansari came in first place in the race for city council. In Pennsylvania, Nikil Saval became the first Asian-American to join the state senate. In Maine, State Senator Chloe Maxmin beat the incumbent senate minority leader.

In addition to these newly elected Democratic candidates, many current Republican leaders are also taking action on climate from office. Both Governor Larry Hogan of Maryland and Governor Charlie Baker of Massachusetts have created comprehensive clean energy plans for their states.  Republican leaders in Miami are also increasingly recognizing the impacts of climate change on their community.

Having this type of grassroots support for addressing the climate crisis emerging as an increasingly competitive factor in many political races around the country demonstrates the truly bipartisan appeal of the issue. Red or blue, people in state after state are further recognizing the reality of clean energy offering lower costs, reduced pollution, better health, more jobs, increased resilience, and other community benefits.

 

Regulations

Finally, in addition to winning candidates and clean energy mandates, a variety of other regulations focused on clean energy and climate are succeeding. In Santa Barbara, the county saw an oil development company drop its application to drill new oil wells in Cat Canyon. In Louisiana, voters rejected Amendment 5, a tax break for fossil fuel companies. In Denver, Colorado, voters passed a tax increase to fund climate-related initiatives. And in California, the Governor’s executive order banning the sale of new internal combustion engine vehicles by 2035 will proceed much more smoothly without federal interference.

 

Federal Leadership

Along with all this important action at the local level, federal leadership on climate is also an essential element of addressing this enormous global challenge. There are many actions the federal government could take to make progress on clean energy, even in the event that one party controls the presidency and another the Senate. In addition to rejoining the Paris Agreement, there are many regulatory actions that a new presidential administration can take, as highlighted in a recent Twitter thread by Michael Wara, director of the Climate and Energy Program at Stanford Woods.

These include everything from strengthening rules on methane leaks from oil and gas extraction, to implementing stronger fuel economy standards for cars, to better rules for the electric power sector.

One major point of leverage could be the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. As noted by Michael Wara, here new appointees could use the Federal Power Act to open markets in the West and South to greater competition. This in turn could lead to wind and solar more rapidly replacing uncompetitive fossil-fueled generation.

There is not a moment to waste in reengaging with global partners to jumpstart a clean energy transition. We know that achieving a net-zero global economy by 2050 is entirely affordable, achievable, and beneficial. Other nations around the world have already realized this and are racing ahead to capture the competitive advantages of a clean energy economy. We must rejoin the race, as soon as possible, with immediate actions including rejoining the Paris Agreement, reinstating crucial regulations, and addressing the climate crisis across all areas of government and society.

 

Editor’s note: This blog was initially written on November 6 while many votes were still being counted and the outcome of the election was uncertain. It has been modified to indicate that there is no longer uncertainty about the winner of the US presidential election.