Even With a 50-50 Split, a Biden Administration Senate Could Make Big Strides on Climate


By Marianne Lavelle

The Georgia victories have given Democrats control of the Senate. But some ardent advocates of climate action are still pessimistic about how much progress can be made with a 50-50 split, in a chamber that has been inert on climate policy for more than a decade.

Yet even the narrow majority the Democrats now have gives them extraordinary power to elevate climate change as a major priority and to take up the more than 120 pieces of legislation that House Democrats have included in a roadmap for a transition to net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The Democrats’ new majority also offers Biden a smoother ride for his nominees and a chance to use Congress to quickly overturn some of the Trump administration’s last-ditch gifts to the fossil fuel industry.


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Biden will have an opportunity to use a budget maneuver requiring just 51 votes for passage that presidents have turned to repeatedly over the last four decades to enact major policies favored primarily by one party. The same legislative vehicle that Presidents Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and Donald Trump used to ram through massive tax cuts, could help enact large portions of Biden’s $2 trillion “Build Back Better” vision for clean energy and jobs.

Perhaps most significant, Democrats now can test the possibilities for bipartisan action on the world’s most important environmental crisis. There was no prospect for bipartisan agreement on climate when President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) held sway.

But now that Trump will be gone and McConnell will be in the minority, Congress has its first real opportunity to confront the scientific consensus for cutting carbon emissions to net zero by mid-century. Biden’s embrace of that goal—far more ambitious than any set by President Barack Obama—comes at a time when climate impacts have become severe, and clean energy and other solutions are more economically viable than they ever have been.

“You have a broader and deeper movement for climate action, and I think you have a realization that there’s common purpose across different goals and values that weren’t as extensively aligned” even a decade ago, said Derek Walker, vice president for climate at the environmental group EDF Action.