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Analysis: Can Biden's green agenda break the 'brown blockade'?

November 17, 2020. Summarized by summa-bot.

Emissions rise from the American Electric Power Co. (AEP) coal-fired John E. Amos Power Plant in Winfield, West Virginia, U.S., on Wednesday, July 18, 2018. American Electric Power Co., Duke Energy Corp., and others say they can't recoup money they spent to meet requirements to cut mercury and other air toxics from their facilities and therefore want the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to retain the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) rule as is. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg

President-elect Joe Biden has committed more explicitly than any nominee before him to dramatic steps against the climate crisis, but he faces the same geographic puzzle that has precluded congressional action on the challenge for years.

Biden dominated the largely post-industrial states, many of them along the two coasts, that generate the least amount of carbon emissions per dollar of economic activity, according to figures from the federal Energy Information Administration.

But as in 2016, President Donald Trump won almost all of the states that emit the most carbon per dollar of economic output, a measure that tracks which states rely most on fossil fuels, either as producers or consumers.

Equally important, those states overwhelmingly sent to the Senate Republicans who almost indivisibly oppose federal action to reduce the carbon emissions linked to global climate change.

The GOP's dominant position in the high-carbon states means that Republicans, even if they lose control of the Senate in the Georgia runoffs, can sustain a filibuster against climate action almost solely with senators from the states most invested in the existing fossil fuel economy -- a dynamic that I've called the "brown blockade. "

In an interview, Casey said he was confident that he could sustain support for Biden's climate and energy agenda in the state, which the former vice president narrowly recaptured after Trump narrowly won it in 2016.

Especially valuable, Casey said, is that Biden has framed the response to climate change as an economic as much as an environmental imperative and has accepted an extended transition from fossil fuels -- "when you have a state like ours where gas extraction is such a prominent part of the economy that people can hold two concepts in their minds at the same time: One that we have to address climate change directly and have a sense of urgency about it, but also that we can have responsible gas extraction. "

Gina McCarthy, the director of the Environmental Protection Agency under Obama and now president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, also says Biden's emphasis on the potential economic benefits of responding to climate change could help broaden the coalition for action.

Biden's discipline in linking climate action with economic opportunity -- reiterated in his speech Monday on the economy -- is likely to help him align the relatively few Senate Democrats from energy-producing areas behind his plans.

One energy lobbyist and former Trump administration official, who asked for anonymity to discuss internal conversations, says most Republicans from energy-producing states see the Biden climate agenda as an existential threat to their local economies.

Two long-term changes may soften the resistance to climate action in some of the big fossil fuel states.

The question for Biden is whether those economic and political dynamics will change fast enough to loosen the Senate's brown blockade against climate action.

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