President-Elect Joe Biden promised during the campaign that re-establishing U.S. leadership on climate change would be a central pillar of his administration.
His statements and actions — including his appointment of former Secretary of State John Kerry–who played a key role in making the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement a reality — as U.S. Special Envoy for Climate shows that he means business. Of course, Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate Majority Leader from Kentucky, will have other ideas — if he remains in that position. The Democrats will take control of the senate if they win both run-off races in Georgia on January 5.
What will a Biden Administration mean for the sports world?
To help answer that question, GreenSportsBlog spoke with Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, the Godfather of Green-Sports, co-founder and former President of the Green Sports Alliance, Chairman and Founding Director of Sports and Sustainability International (SandSI), and a keen eco-politics observer.
GreenSportsBlog: Allen, what are your thoughts about the election of Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States a month ago now, specifically as it relates to the environment? And what does that mean for the sports world?
Dr. Allen Hershkowitz: Lew, we dodged a bullet. I don’t think it’s overstating the case to say that the election of Joe Biden, and the ouster of Donald Trump from the White House after one term, is among the most important environmental accomplishments of our lifetime.
Trump’s scientific illiteracy and disregard for planetary health will have generational impacts, and if he was re-elected it would have accelerated the human extinction event we’re fighting to avoid. He is indisputably the most disastrous President for the human and planetary health in history.
According to the Sabin Center for Climate Law at Columbia University, the Trump Administration undertook more than 160 regulatory actions to weaken or repeal climate rules, and his administration made over 300 attempts to restrict scientific research related to climate, including the removal of credible scientists…
GSB: …And all of this during a time when we really have no time to waste on climate.
Hershkowitz: Exactly. And that’s why, when it comes to the environment and climate — and on almost every other issue — Biden winning the Presidency was so crucial.
GSB: What do you think Biden, once he’s inaugurated on January 20th, will do first when it comes to the environment and climate?
Hershkowitz: Well, on Day One, Biden will begin reviewing and reversing anti-environment executive orders and rules enacted by President Trump and his administration. He said throughout the campaign that he would re-enter the United States into the Paris Climate Agreement and I expect that to happen on or soon after his first full day in office.
At least 15 of President Trump’s environmentally-related executive orders can be repealed or reversed during the first week of the Biden Administration, including those that promote the use of fossil fuels and those that make it more difficult to issue new environmental regulations. I expect that he’ll restore methane emission limits on the oil and gas industry very quickly.
And by the way, our planet’s ecological emergency is not limited to climate change, and not all of these environmentally damaging rules and regulations are at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Consequently, we should expect Biden to restore protections on public lands, including wilderness areas, national monuments and national parks. Economic policies and trade deals will be environmentally informed. The federal government spends $500 billion annually on procurement, and that can be used to support environmentally preferable goods and services.
The Department of the Interior has Trump-era rules that allow fossil fuel development on public lands, including the expedited leasing of federal lands for coal mining and oil and gas development. The Department of Energy is involved with natural gas exports, and under Trump it has rolled back important appliance efficiency standards and more. The Department of Transportation rolled back fuel efficiency standards for cars.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), National Parks and Monuments, Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the Small Business Administration have all advanced rules under Trump that are harmful to environmental and planetary health that can and will be undone in the Biden Administration by executive action.
GSB: All of this is of course beyond crucial. But when you rely on executive action, all it takes to Trump-i-fy them again is the next Republican Administration. What do you see happening on the legislative front?
Hershkowitz: Tell me who wins the senate run-off elections in Georgia on January 5th and I’ll tell you about our legislative options.
If Democrats Jon Ossoff and Rafael Warnock both win, then the party will control the senate. In that case, environmentally intelligent initiatives, including important climate-related legislation will have a chance to get passed in the senate and then we shall see what happens from there.
Potential legislation that a senate controlled by the Democrats as well as the House — and signed into law by President Biden — includes investments and support for many of the energy efficiency enhancements, and vehicle electrification initiatives that many sports venues and the communities that host them are eager to advance. I personally am involved in reviewing plans at sports venues that would benefit climate and planetary health. These would be green-lit more quickly if federal support was shifted from fossil fuel subsides to green infrastructure.
Of course, if the Republicans win one or both of the seats, that means Mitch McConnell will remain the majority leader. I’m an empiricist and with McConnell running things, history shows that getting progressive climate legislation introduced, much less passed, will be extremely difficult.
I’d like to think that when Republicans in Congress see red states like Texas and Florida increasingly damaged by hurricanes, Wyoming and Idaho devastated by wildfires, the midwest ravaged by climate induced floods, that they might see the light on climate legislation. And I’d like to believe that a return to an administration respecting and publicizing scientific facts will increase the pressure on the GOP to act. After all, science is not just another opinion.
But I’ll have to see it to believe it. The truth is that politics doesn’t move fast…
GSB: …Except, as far as Mitch McConnell is concerned, with confirming judges. Those move like the speed of light!
I think that if the Republicans remain in control of the Senate, potential climate legislation will likely be limited to market-based carbon pricing solutions like ‘carbon fee and dividend’. This is a bit wonkish but here goes:
The money raised from the fees on fossil fuels will not go to the U.S. Treasury — then it would be a tax, which would be dead on arrival with Republicans. Instead, the revenues would be returned to every U.S. household in the form of a monthly dividend. The size of government is not increased. The fee would be structured in a way that the lowest 2/3 of the income scale would receive more in dividends than they pay in higher prices due to the fees, which should appeal to progressives.
That might be it on the legislative front with a GOP Senate.
If both Democrats win in Georgia races, which does not seem impossible, what kind of specific environmental and climate legislation can you envision?
Hershkowitz: Even if the Democrats win control of the Senate, we’re going to need every tool in the toolbox, including both market-based incentives and regulatory mandates.
Given that climate has already been elevated into Biden’s national security apparatus, and given the enormous jobs-producing economic potential of massive environmentally-oriented infrastructure investments, I think we should expect Biden to go big on climate legislation, especially now that is has become clear that while the 2015 Paris Agreement was enormously important, it does not go far enough if we want to prevent catastrophic consequences. Some examples include proposals that would:
- Cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 45-50 percent by 2030.
- Achieve net-zero GHG emissions by 2050
- Require all new passenger vehicles be ‘zero emission’ by 2035
- Dramatically expand EV charging infrastructure
There will also be programs to restore biodiversity and clean water protections and protections from toxic chemicals that the Trump administration has undermined. Climate and environmental legislation will certainly be expansive, encompassing issues like environmental, racial and social justice, public health, and economic health.
GSB: Preach, Allen, PREACH! So, how should the sports world react to the Biden Administration’s potential climate actions?
Allen: Every community hosting a sports venue is already being affected by climate change. In fact, the entire supply chain of the sports industry is affected by climate change. Consequently, sports venues and the teams that run them should anticipate being encouraged — or required — to reduce their climate impacts. I’ve already let executives at sports leagues and teams to expect that wherever there is a venue, it will be impacted by the new environmental rules and some level of climate legislation regardless of who controls the senate.
Those conversations have focused on the solutions that might benefit from federal support, as well as compliance with the new rules, including energy efficiency and healthy building standards.
I know from first-hand experience that many environmental initiatives at ballparks and arenas are on hold due to COVID. Teams need revenue from fans in the seats to respond to environmental challenges. So, once we reach the end the pandemic, the sports world will be better positioned to invest in technologies and efficiency enhancements that help address climate change. Think about it: Ending the COVID crisis means you have a healthier population. A healthier population means we can snap back to a healthier economy. And we will need a healthy planet to sustain a healthy population.
Basically, we need a COVID-like mobilization on climate and sports will surely help lead this.
GSB: Absolutely. I hope that the Biden Administration will revive and amp up what President Obama started, White House — Green-Sports roundtables, of which you were a part. That said, I’m still struck by the fact that more than 74 million Americans voted for the most disastrous environmental President of all time. How does sports help communicate the urgency of climate action to at least some of those folks?
Hershkowitz: It won’t be easy — we are, sad to say, largely a scientifically illiterate nation, something that Trump helped to dumb down even further. And even if Biden is wildly successful, the truth is that climate…water…forests…they all have to be managed forever. Same thing with the related social justice issues like racism and gender bias. We just have to keep fighting.
The good news is that sports is where people can connect across the political divide. Teams, venues and leagues will need to continue communicating about the need for climate action in positive, unifying language. For example, climate action as a unifier, as an economic driver. The New York Yankees, with whom I work as Environmental Science Advisor, are doing just that: the team is already in compliance with GHG emission limits that New York City requires to be achieved in 2029, and we’re already looking to go beyond that.
You know, back in 1988, then Vice President Al Gore said that “climate change will be the central organizing principle of the 21st Century.” He was right.
GSB: I’m well aware. Now we need a few Republican Senators to agree.
Photo at top: President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris (Photo credit: Gioncarlo Valentine)