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Climate progress can — and must — continue under divided government

Policymakers will come to Washington in January under a divided government. Despite Americans electing slim majorities in the House and Senate –– with Republicans gaining control of the House and Democrats retaining the Senate –– now is not the time to pause on climate progress. Even amid shifts in the political landscape, we’ve witnessed historic progress on climate and clean energy solutions across two administrations. There’s no reason the 118th Congress cannot continue this productive streak. 

A clean energy future is on the horizon and bipartisan policymaking will continue to play a major role in transforming our energy system. Consider what we’ve accomplished so far. The passage of the Energy Act of 2020 marked a years-long culmination of efforts to pass comprehensive bipartisan energy legislation. Negotiations across parties and chambers resulted in a bill that set down bipartisan markers on policy priorities for the next generation of clean energy technologies, and made a critical “down payment” on early-stage research and development that set the stage for larger investments in the future. That legislation passed under a divided government.

Congress followed up a year later with the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and most recently the Inflation Reduction Act, which, despite the partisan process by which it passed, contained many provisions that originated in bipartisan bills. Together, these laws create the critical framework to help us reach our emissions reduction targets. This inclusive and politically durable framework includes renewables, clean hydrogen, nuclear energy, carbon capture and storage, geothermal, and a variety of other technologies and approaches that are relevant to communities across the country. 

It’s clear that American voters broadly support boosting the clean energy economy and addressing climate change. In fact, climate appeared to be one of the major motivating factors for younger voters –– a growing cohort both parties are courting. While other issues took center stage in the midterm elections, we did not see intense voter backlash to the passage of landmark clean energy bills the way we did during the 2010 election in response to the Affordable Care Act and the Waxman-Markey cap and trade bill. Instead, this year’s election results were historic in their own right. Typically, the party of the sitting president loses seats across both chambers. That didn’t happen this year.  

So, what does this mean going into the 118th Congress? Pragmatic and technology-inclusive climate policies broaden the base of support for clean energy and appear to be good politics across the aisle. After all, everyone will see the benefits, regardless of political party. As recently passed legislation is implemented, voters will see benefits in their communities, including jobs, cleaner air and economic growth –– creating more incentives for policymakers to advance climate and clean energy policies. 

Given the growing support for climate action, the need to address global energy challenges, and the opportunities for massive clean energy development across the U.S., Republicans and Democrats alike may be best served politically by elevating their ambition on pragmatic energy solutions rather than minimizing it. Over the next two years, Congress should hold the Biden administration accountable for making sure the existing laws are successfully implemented to deliver on their full potential for all Americans. 

If the past two years have shown us anything, it’s that pragmatic climate and clean energy policies can become points of consensus across party lines. Climate and clean energy advocates built strong coalitions and diverse constituencies of support that focused on the issues that matter most to Americans: air quality and emissions reductions, public health, energy security, economic opportunity, and job creation –– priorities any party can champion. 

The progress we’ve made so far is commendable, but we can’t stop now. And we certainly can’t pause climate progress just because the makeup of the federal government has changed. If the past is any indication of the future, the 118th Congress can continue to coalesce around durable, bipartisan and pragmatic policies that provide public health, economic and environmental benefits across the country. It won’t be easy, and it may be incremental, but sustained progress is necessary to reach our climate goals.

Lindsey Baxter Griffith is executive director of Clean Air Task Force Action. She has more than a decade of experience working on climate change and energy issues. Follow her on Twitter @lindsey_baxter.

Tags 118th Congress clean energy Climate change partisan politics

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