Passing aggressive climate laws will be highly difficult without Democratic control of the Senate. But there are other ways to make progress.
Though the counts aren’t finished and the legal challenges could drag on for weeks, Joe Biden’s victory in the US presidential election is looking increasingly likely. If he does triumph, it will also be a win for action on climate change. But his ability to push through any sweeping legislation will be seriously constrained if, as appears likely, Republicans retain control of the Senate.
This outcome is far from the landslide repudiation of President Donald Trump’s assaults on environmental policy, science, and pluralism that climate activists had fervently hoped for. Climate change did appear to be a motivating issue in certain regions and races, and a concern for a solid majority of voters. But polling found that the economy, health care, and the coronavirus outbreak were far more important issues to voters than climate change, where they remain sharply divided along partisan lines.
“The potential for Biden to do something big on climate feels, to me, pretty small,” says David Keith, a professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. “The reality is there will be a lot of other priorities for an early Biden administration … and you’re sitting on a pretty weak mandate.”