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November 10, 2020   |   Diesel Technology Forum

Policy Insider

What Will A Biden Win Mean for Transportation and Energy Policy?

Using energy more wisely, diversifying energy sources and fuels will all be essential parts of any plan successful in tackling the near term and long term challenges from a changing climate.

If the 2020 Presidential election concludes with the official declaration of Joe Biden as the 46th President, an expected shift in direction for environmental, climate and energy policy awaits. From restoration of environmental policies reversed or modified in the past four years, to adoption of a bold green new deal agenda, there are a range of possibilities.  

His first day in office, President-elect Biden has committed to sign an executive order recommitting the U.S. to the Paris Climate Accords. The Los Angeles Times reports further that the Biden Administration is likely to reverse the Trump Administration’s rules on auto emissions standards and institute more stringent auto standards while granting California its authority to go-it-alone on separate tailpipe standards - notable also in that 13 other states have adopted California’s standards.

Based on the Biden policy platform transformative measures will be sought to address climate change and to promote a clean energy transition, achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. To get there, a variety of strategies would be required across wide sectors of the economy, most notably transformation of the  electric power sector to 100 percent renewable energy, and major changes to transportation sector.

President-elect Biden will also likely rely on existing authorities already granted to the Administration to pursue climate and energy policy goals. Transportation sector changes beyond the restoration of more stringent tailpipe standards and California policy waivers are expected to include substantial incentives for accelerated electrification of passenger and commercial vehicles and the necessary supporting infrastructure, but also more effort to grow biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel. 

We would expect President-elect Biden to advance incentive-based clean energy transportation goals, but not seek to ban or eliminate fossil fuels outright, recognizing their continued essential role in the economy.

With the current make-up in Congress, President-elect Biden will have to rely on political strategies that do not necessarily rely on a still Republican-controlled Senate that has no appetite for ambitious climate legislation. Axios reports that President Biden’s platform on climate change did not go down well in purple states that delivered the victory. There is likely very little appetite in the Senate to consider ambitious climate legislation. But there could be opportunities to move smaller less ambitious policies. 

According to the Pew Research Center, far more Americans view climate change as cause for concern and want federal action. While the fate of a progressive Green New Deal policies is in serious doubt, Senators may be willing to advance smaller proposals. Forbes reports that Department of Energy research and development programs and efforts to promote more biofuels could be something that achieves bipartisan support. With the federal program that mandates the use of biofuels, the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), expiring in 2022, efforts to revamp the program to incentivize more advanced biofuels production could attract support from Midwest red states. Today, the use of biodiesel and renewable diesel fuel is generating the most greenhouse gas emission reductions in those states that incentivize their use through low carbon fuel standards. GHG reductions achieved from low-carbon fuels today are beating benefits achieved by electrification of cars, trucks and buses by 4 to 1.

Then Senator Biden supported the Diesel Emission Reduction Act in Congress, a bipartisan program established legislation that originated with his fellow-Delawaran Senator Tom Carper. This clean air program is like a cash for clunkers for heavy-duty trucks, buses and equipment and has generated big benefits for quite a few communities since funding was first appropriated in 2008. There may be an appetite for red state Senators and the Biden Administration to boost funding for the clean air program. Upgraded and modernized diesel technology has delivered most of the benefits, delivering more than $13 dollars in benefits for each dollar invested, along with eliminating 454 million gallons of fuel since its inception.

Major federal investments in infrastructure - also a pledge of President-elect Biden - would compel increasing demand for additional construction machines and equipment - now all the newest generation achieving near zero emissions - and the trucks and fuels that support them.  

Change is on the horizon, but likely to be more incremental than transformative, reflecting the practical realties of divided government. However it comes, using energy more wisely, diversifying energy sources and fuels will all be essential parts of any plan successful in tackling the near term and long term challenges from a changing climate. 


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Allen Schaeffer
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