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Biden has a climate-change mandate — what can he actually achieve?

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By Rachel Koning Beals

Joe Biden wavered on the controversial practice of oil and gas fracking early in the campaign but by the time the presumptive president-elect addressed the American people on Saturday night, his desire for a strong U.S. role in the climate-change fight was clearer.

Biden had already said he’ll reverse President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord on day one and he repeated that pledge in his evening speech.

What else might the new administration — including Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, one of the earlier endorsers of the party’s Green New Deal — pursue?

Biden ran on his own proposed $2 trillion initiative promoting a clean-energy transition and creating green jobs. He seeks to decarbonize the power sector by 2035 and reach net-zero emissions across the entire economy by 2050.

Related: What the election could mean for Tesla, Fisker and their EV rivals

Biden wants to expand electric vehicle TSLA charging infrastructure and make efficiency upgrades to buildings. The Democrat ran against Trump’s record of supporting the shrinking and debt-heavy coal sector and backing the fossil-fuel industry CL00 , including through subsidies. Biden may have to compromise on fossil fuels as many Republicans want to keep historically cheap natural gas in a diverse energy mix seen boosting the U.S. standing with OPEC and Russia. Partisanship may require greater Capitol Hill compromise, executive actions by Biden and linking climate change to trade and security pacts, say analysts.

What if no Senate majority secured?

Democrats likely hold a narrow advantage in the House, while what will be ultra-thin control for either party in the Senate remains up for grabs due to the Georgia runoff .

Both parties advanced renewable energy and broader climate-change bills in recent months but neither saw much traction given the election year and COVID-19 priorities.

Still, a lack of dominance by either party could slow progress on legislation, particularly on an effort as sweeping as the first draft of a Green New Deal advanced by progressive Democrats last year.

Analysts with Raymond James said in a note Monday that a Republican-controlled Senate “will make it difficult if not impossible” for Biden to enact any sweeping reforms.

Moreover, the Democratic caucus will have at least two members likely to be “hostile to major climate reforms,” the Raymond James analysts said: Joe Manchin of West Virginia and, to a lesser extent, newly elected John Hickenlooper of Colorado.

Manchin and Hickenlooper “would attempt to block or at least water down” legislation that would seek carbon-neutral, or “net zero,” mandates, “and Biden’s associated proposal for mandating a 100% carbon-free U.S. electricity mix by 2035 would also be at risk, since this would imply phasing out all coal-fired and gas-fired power plants nationwide,” they said.

Coal’s market share is likely to be “minimal” anyway by 2035 due to market forces, and the elimination of all gas plants “is not realistic without government action,” the analysts added.

Demand for coal has been waning for several years as the fossil fuel faced competition with much cheaper natural gas and increasingly cheaper renewable energy.

But there may be pressure to produce something. Public interest in climate action can no longer be denied, however. A Yale and George Mason University survey found 71% of voters support legislation “eliminating fossil fuel emissions from the transportation, electricity, buildings, industry and agricultural sectors in the United States by the year 2050. A  Fox News poll  showed 70% of Americans “support increasing government spending on green and renewable energy.”

Leslie Hayward of Rapidan Energy Group tweeted a diagram just before the election result laying out what Biden might be able to lock down with and without Senate backing.

Progressive climate-change groups are encouraged by the White House win but want Biden, seen as a centrist for much of his long political career, to commit to a proposal as ambitious as the sweeping Green New Deal roadmap advanced by Democrats last year.

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