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2024 election to shape U.S. climate policy's fate

GOP candidates like Vivek Ramaswamy and Donald Trump have taken stances against climate change, while others like Nikki Haley support certain measures to address climate issues.

The 2024 U.S. presidential election will be pivotal for climate policy. GOP candidates are divided, with some backing limited measures to address climate issues and others rejecting climate change outright, likening it to a hoax.

Climate policy has flipped back and forth depending on which party controls the presidency and Congress, said Dana Fisher, a Brookings Institution nonresident senior fellow and director of the Center for Environment, Community and Equity at American University. She said the outcome of the 2024 presidential election will determine whether clean energy initiatives and climate policies in the U.S. go forward.

"What we frequently see is that whatever political party is in power and holds the presidency plays a substantial role," she said.

Extreme weather events such as wildfires, excessive heat, flooding and drought have not gone unnoticed by Democrats and Republicans in Congress, which passed the bipartisan Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) in 2022 to boost clean energy incentives for businesses. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is also working on a proposed climate risk disclosure rule that would require publicly listed businesses to detail their direct greenhouse gas emissions and weather-related business risks. Apple, Microsoft, Salesforce and other tech companies recently signed letters of support for a similar reporting framework, the Climate Corporate Data Accountability Act, in California.

Reducing environmental impact and implementing more sustainable business practices is also becoming increasingly important to enterprise business leaders. Senior business leaders named sustainability a top 10 priority in 2022, according to a Gartner survey, making U.S. leadership on climate policy critical for businesses looking to align business environmental goals with federal policy.

Despite some marginally growing acceptance of climate-related issues by Republicans in Congress, some potential GOP presidential candidates stand strongly against further climate policy in the U.S.

GOP candidates' stance

During the first Republican presidential debate of the 2024 election, GOP candidate and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy said Biden's clean energy policies are hurting innovation. He called climate change a "hoax."

Ramaswamy's climate stance reflects that of GOP candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump, whose administration focused on championing oil, natural gas and coal industries as well as reversing environmental protections.

GOP candidate and Florida governor Ron DeSantis sent a message on his climate stance earlier this year when he signed a bill that prohibits state officials from investing public funds to promote environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals. On DeSantis' campaign website, he says he has delivered wins on conservative priorities, including "waging war on woke power-grabs like ESG."

GOP candidates like Nikki Haley acknowledge that climate change is occurring but only support certain governmental-led efforts to address it, such as carbon-capture technology for businesses. GOP candidate Mike Pence wants to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency and end IRA tax credits for electric vehicles and green retrofitting of existing buildings.

If the election results in Republicans winning the U.S. presidency and control of Congress, the future of the IRA is uncertain, said Dave Effross, director of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation's Center for Clean Energy Innovation.

"If the Republicans controlled all three branches, they would roll back the IRA," he said.

How a change in leadership will affect climate policy

The uncertainty surrounding climate policy has been demonstrated by past presidential administrations, Fisher said. Through an executive order in 2015, former President Barack Obama's administration enacted the Clean Power Plan, which set limits for carbon pollution from power plants. That executive order was immediately reversed when the Trump administration took office in 2016.

But the IRA is the first climate legislation passed into law in the U.S., which will be much harder for a Republican president to reverse should Biden lose reelection.

Fisher doesn't believe the Republicans will reverse the IRA.

"There's really a disconnect right now between the messages that we saw on the stage with that first GOP debate and the way that Republicans in Congress have been talking about climate," she said. "They've been acknowledging that there is climate change. But the solutions they're proposing are the absolute lowest hanging fruit, which will not in any way solve the climate crisis or stave it off. But they will have an effect on emissions."

What we frequently see is that whatever political party is in power and holds the presidency plays a substantial role.
Dana FisherDirector, Center for Environment, Community and Equity, American University

Within Congress, there are several policy mechanisms that Republicans could support, Fisher said. The Trump administration was extreme in denying climate change, which resulted in Republicans in Congress getting in line behind Trump's messaging, Fisher said. However, before the Trump administration came in, Congressional Republicans were in a similar place to where they are now -- acknowledging climate change but calling for a softer response.

"I'm not saying a Republican is going to run on a platform to stop burning fossil fuels. But a platform that opens up to more energy variation in terms of energy sources or one that supports carbon capture and storage and carbon removal technologies that complement fossil fuel extraction," she said. "The messages we got from this presidential debate make it unclear if a Republican president would follow through on this. But I think in Congress, we will see Republicans absolutely continue to support this."

ITIF's Effross said certain effects of climate-related risks aren't lost on Congress, including massive federal aid spending in the wake of climate-related disasters.

However, the Republicans oppose forced clean energy adoption through regulation, Effross said. This entails relying on competitive markets to foster price parity between clean energy technologies and fossil fuel-based systems.

Fisher said if a Republican wins the presidency, there could be a turning away from international commitments to addressing the effects of climate change, like The Paris Agreement. Additionally, if a Republican candidate with a strong anti-climate stance like Trump or Ramaswamy was elected, they likely would not sign additional climate legislation.

"Policymaking will stall. But the interesting thing is that I don't think we're going to see complete removal of the investments written into the Inflation Reduction Act," she said.

Biden falls short on climate commitments

Though the Biden administration was the first to lead U.S. climate policy through both the House and Senate, Fisher said he's fallen short on the aggressive climate commitments he made at the beginning of his presidency.

To pass the IRA, Biden and Democrats in the Senate agreed to open public lands to extraction of fossil fuels and the continued construction of the natural gas Mountain Valley Pipeline that runs 303 miles from West Virginia to Virginia. The IRA does provide strong incentives for investing in clean energy, and while Fisher said there are plenty of carrots through the IRA, "there are less sticks than there have ever been before."

"Environmental justice activists are all very disappointed in the way he got the IRA passed," she said.

If Biden is re-elected, he will see growing pressure for more climate action that's not just carrots but sticks, Fisher said.

"I think that President Biden himself was open to those kinds of measures and then had to make compromises to get the job done with Congress," she said. "If Congress becomes more open to supporting more aggressive polices, I think we'll see them coming from the president."

Makenzie Holland is a news writer covering big tech and federal regulation. Prior to joining TechTarget, she was a general reporter for the Wilmington StarNews and a crime and education reporter at the Wabash Plain Dealer.

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