America's re-entry into the Paris climate accord, as well as other climate-related actions taken by the Biden administration, won’t change the way things are currently being done as much as accelerate what’s already occurring with infrastructure, industry sources say.
“The industries we support, they have a longer term view of the environment and don’t necessarily look at short term changes,” says Steve Nalefski, manager of Burns & McDonnell’s environmental group. “They have been very proactive at staying on path of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and looking at ways to develop a renewable portfolio.”
In addition to rejoining the accord, Biden ordered that regulations be reviewed through the lens of climate change and climate resilience, and he reestablished a committee to determine a social cost of carbon that can be used when conducting cost-benefit analysis of regulations and other federal actions.
In a joint statement issued by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, 42 of the nation’s largest companies supported the administration’s actions, saying not only can those steps help reduce the impact of climate change, but they can also create economic activity.
“Recognizing these risks and opportunities, seeing the broad public support for clean energy and climate protection, and hearing the concerns of our investors, customers, communities, and employees, our companies view climate action as a business imperative,” said the group of companies including DuPont, Edison International, Shell, Total and Schneider Electric.
It’s anticipated the administration will take a holistic approach to climate change, incorporating reductions of greenhouse gas emissions and climate resilience into all efforts, including the anticipated $2-trillion infrastructure bill to be introduced next month.
“It will pay off to invest in smarter infrastructure,” says Edgar Westerhof, national director for flood risk and resilience at Arcadis. “If you upgrade, do it in a climate resilient way.” Such an approach was being taken under the Obama administration, and Westerhof says he expects it to continue under Biden.
But climate efforts have not been at a standstill over the past four years, he says. Most recently, former President Donald Trump signed the STORM Act (safeguarding tomorrow through ongoing mitigation) on Jan. 1. The legislation allows the Federal Emergency Management Agency to grant money to cities and towns to create revolving loan funds for resilient infrastructure projects.
Additionally, Westerhof says, cities including New York, Boston and Miami have continued on with their climate adaptation and mitigation efforts. But, he says, cities can’t do it alone. “We will need a collaboration,” including all layers of government and business.
Renewable energy will play a key role in meeting climate goals, efforts that are already being assisted by companies such as Mortenson and Burns & McDonnell, among others. Utility customers began investing heavily in renewable energy in the early days of the Obama administration and that didn’t change when Trump came into office, Nalefski says.
The Edison Electric Institute, the lobbying arm of investor-owned utilities, issued a statement Jan. 20 supporting the Biden administration’s focus on climate change, highlighting that nearly 40% of the nation’s electricity now comes from carbon-free sources, including nuclear energy, hydropower, wind and solar energy.
Mortenson, which was the no. 1 wind contractor and the no. 2 solar contractor on ENR’s Top 400 Contractors list, applauded the Biden administration’s focus on climate change.
“We share the focus of President Biden and his administration regarding climate change and needed environmental action and we are encouraged by the ideas being discussed,” Dan Johnson, president and CEO, said in an emailed statement to ENR. “We know through our work and support we can make a difference, and we will further evaluate the upcoming policies and proposals when that information is made public.”
Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, echoed that sentiment, saying that Biden’s actions will allow the US to reclaim its standing as a global leader in the fight against climate change.
“We don’t have time to lose,” Westerhof says. The actions of the new administration “will create new momentum and more funding. Innovation will be key.”