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What Will the Georgia Senate Race Results Mean for Energy Policy?

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Much attention in the Georgia Senate runoffs has focused on its implications for policy making. For Democrats, a senate majority could potentially translate to control over rulemaking in both houses. A Republican senate will counter the Democrat-controlled House and prevent giving legislative carte blanche to them.

The news media has cast the fight in black-and-white terms - a fight between ideologies. On some issues, that may be true. Where climate change and energy policy are concerned, however, the ideological differences are blurry, the candidate's stances defined by the state and business interests. As such, it is difficult to be certain whether Democrat control of the senate will assist or obstruct the party’s more ambitious energy policies.

Opposite Sides of the Fence

The Republican candidates – Sen. David Perdue and former Senator Kelly Loeffler – both have a record of voting against environmental and green energy interests. Sen. Perdue, in fact, scores an abysmal 3% on the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) scorecard. He has consistently voted against climate change policies and described it as a hoax. More recently, he called the Green New Deal, a proposal that bundles together disparate ideas and issues like renewable energy and social equity, as “nothing more than a socialist wishlist.”    

In contrast, both Democrat candidates, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, have aggressively promoted their renewable energy creds. On his campaign website, Ossoff states that he “will fight for a massive investment in clean and renewable energy and transitioning away from carbon-emitting energy production.” Pastor Raphael Warnock, the other Democratic candidate, has a more measured take on his site. He states that he will “encourage investment in clean energy and commit to transitioning to a clean economy by 2050.”

A Progressive Energy Policy?

While the candidates hew to their respective party positions, the Democrats in the Georgia senate race do not share their party’s more ambitious climate agenda. When he unveiled an ambitious $2 trillion climate plan last November, President Joe Biden was commended for releasing a “comprehensive” document that was “not a status quo”. It set aside funding for climate change and promises to decarbonize the economy by 2035. Besides this, it also incorporates progressive elements, from green infrastructure to environmental and social justice for underprivileged communities, in its agenda.

It is this last bit of detail that might prove problematic in Georgia. In interviews, Democrat candidate Jon Ossoff has said that he does not support the Green New Deal put forward by his party’s progressive wing. He shares one of the deal’s goals - that of “linking of environmental policy and infrastructure policy”. He has not explained the reasons for his lack of support of the deal. But there are indicators that he does not agree with its social justice mission. For example, he has said that he does not support Medicare for all and is in favor of a private insurance market. (Healthcare giant Kaiser Permanente is among his top donors). Even if he wins the Senate race, Ossoff may not be of much help in passing Biden’s climate change agenda in its current form.

President-elect Biden’s ambitious time horizons to decarbonize the economy could pose another problem for the Georgia Democrats. He wants it done by 2035. Raphael Warnock has a different take; he has promised to decarbonize the economy by 2050. (Ossoff has not mentioned a time frame for a zero-carbon economy on his website). The difference is timelines is critical to passing legislation that satisfies both sides of the aisle.

It may be even more important for Georgia Power, the Southern Co. subsidiary which is the dominant power provider in the state. Fossil fuel sources account for 66% of Georgia’s power generation mix. Whittling away the share of fossil fuels will take time and effort and an aggressive schedule to decarbonize the economy will likely be blocked by players from both parties, if not in the House then definitely in the Senate. (Incidentally, senior executives from the utility industry donated generously to former Senator Kelly Loeffler's campaign.)   

 

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