They could do this by supporting a bipartisan climate plan that is neither the Green New Deal nor the do-nothing-ism that has so long prevailed. A proposal backed by senior Republican luminaries James A. Baker III and George P. Shultz, along with a massive swath of corporate America, would put a steadily rising fee on carbon emissions and rebate the proceeds back to Americans.
The path is narrow. If Republicans retain the Senate and it becomes clear that major legislation would go nowhere, Mr. Biden would be left with small-bore legislative options: boosting funds for environmental agencies; securing money to build out electricity transmission lines and public transit; advancing federal incentives for renewables. Mr. Biden could get some of these passed early on, in a covid-19 aid bill or a federal budget bill, and maintain pressure for larger climate legislation. But he should also prepare for the possibility that the bigger bill never comes.
The Clean Air Act delegates substantial authority to the president. The second he enters the Oval Office, Mr. Biden should reinstate and build on President Barack Obama’s legacy environmental regulations — rules on methane emissions, power plants and auto efficiency, to name a few — and integrate climate considerations into the exercise of every other executive authority he commands. He can also restart U.S. climate diplomacy by immediately reentering the Paris climate agreement.
In the past four years, the economics of clean energy have improved vastly, foreign countries have upped their game, and demand among businesses for federal action has shot up. If that still does not translate into passing a big climate bill, it may be that Mr. Biden can nevertheless cobble together enough smaller initiatives that, added together, lead to large reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.