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The US Needs Urgent Federal Climate Policy—RMI Has Some Ideas

Climate action is back on the federal agenda in the United States. We’ve seen President Biden take executive action to tackle the climate crisis, rightfully linking it to job creation, environmental justice, and strengthening America’s infrastructure. We’ve heard a commitment to addressing climate change in speeches from almost every new cabinet appointee. Those commitments have come even from appointed positions that previously weren’t closely tied to the environment, such as the director of the National Economic Council and the head of the Department of Health and Human Services.  

We also saw the bipartisan Energy Act of 2020 pass Congress with the omnibus and coronavirus relief bill this past December, showing there is common ground when it comes to tackling the climate crisis. As discussed in our policy team’s latest blog, there is a lot to be hopeful for with federal climate action.  

With this new federal commitment and momentum, RMI has launched our US Federal Climate Policy Imperatives series, which will contain seven policy briefs representing seven different sectors and change models. This policy brief series focuses on federal government action that can move the United States closer to limiting warming to 1.5° Celsius while building a sustainable economy and creating lasting, quality jobs. These imperatives were developed with the current Biden/Harris administration and 117th Congress in mind and are built from RMI’s existing work and theory of change. 

 

RMI’s First Policy Brief: Decarbonizing Buildings

For the US building stock to be 1.5°C aligned, we need to decarbonize through electrification of combustion-based appliances, deep efficiency retrofits, and construction of decarbonized new buildings that are all electric, highly efficient, and low in embodied carbon. But beyond that, it is important that buildings are healthy to occupants and that energy bills are affordable. Revitalizing our building sector also is a major opportunity to support local manufacturing jobs and economic development. The three building imperatives outlined in more detail in the policy brief that support decarbonization, health, affordability, and job creation include: 

  • Idea #1: Reduce emissions from buildings through direct health-based regulation of combustion-based appliances. 
  • Idea #2: Climate-align housing finance through government-sponsored enterprises. 
  • Idea #3: Invest in advanced building construction to ensure the future of construction and manufacturing is low carbon and firmly rooted in American soil. 

The first two ideas can be implemented through regulations from federal agencies, and the third idea could be part of future stimulus or infrastructure packages. 

 

Accelerating Existing Actions with New Federal Policy

RMI will be releasing a new policy brief every week on the following sectors and change models: 

  • Mobility: We have seen the powerful effect the federal government can have on the mobility industry through the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards. CAFE required automakers to create a more fuel-efficient fleet, improved our nation’s energy security, saved consumers money at the pump, and reduced GHG emissions. The federal government now needs to play a similar role to dramatically accelerate EV adoption and reduce vehicle miles traveled. This policy brief outlines imperatives to achieve this by setting national EV targets, supporting manufacturing of USmade electric vehicles and batteries, incentivizing fleet electrification, and aligning federal funding with reduction of GHG and vehicle miles traveled. A sneak peek of the ideas in the forthcoming policy brief can be found in the blog post How to Move America to Electric Vehicles. 
  • Local governments: When the Trump administration pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement, we saw subnational actors, including local governments, step up to the plate to show the rest of the world that America was still in. Now that the federal government has recommitted to the Paris Climate Agreement, it is time for the federal government to support local action by providing financial support to muchneeded infrastructure projects and by ensuring federal funding incentivizes local policies that encourage equity and smart growth. 
  • Electricity: Biden campaigned on 100 percent clean energy by 2035. To achieve this ambitious target, RMI outlines needed federal action in our policy brief. This includes rewarding decarbonization projects through tax credits or loans, prioritizing rapid electricity transmission buildout, and sponsoring technical assistance and convenings for state regulatory and utility reform. 
  • Finance: It is critical that we ensure our financial system supports decarbonization. This policy brief will outline the importance of green banks, appropriately pricing climate risk, and the need to mandate disclosure of financed emissions. 
  • Quantifying climate progress: As the United States sets more ambitious climate targets, it is more important than ever that those targets are supported by reliable and transparent data. This policy brief outlines how the federal government can increase transparency of oil and gas emissions, encourage low embodied carbon in federal procurement, and improve shared climate measurement and reporting infrastructure. 
  • Technology innovation: Technology advancements are a major reason why the energy transition is now seen as not only economically viable, but also economically more beneficial than sticking to business as usual. Biden has committed to driving dramatic cost reduction in critical clean energy technologies, and this policy brief will outline how the federal government can further encourage and support these advancements.

 

Many Opportunities for Federal Climate Action

In the next few months alone, there will be many opportunities to influence climate policy through executive actions, agency regulations, or new legislation. We can expect opportunities through the coronavirus relief package, a highly anticipated infrastructure package, US submission of nationally determined contributions for the Paris Climate Agreement, and Earth Day announcements. RMI hopes these policy briefs can foster new ideas and move existing conversations forward. This is the decisive decade for climate action, so ambitious action at the federal level is urgently needed, and RMI is happy to be part of the conversation.