Policy Implications of a Biden Presidency

While there are still some uncertainties about the final results of the 2020 elections, including key runoff elections for two Senate seats in the state of Georgia, it is important to look at the potential policy implications of a Biden presidency. As with all presidential administrations, there will be some policy changes that can be accomplished simply through executive action. Both the Obama and Trump Administrations were very active in issuing Executive Orders to advance policy objectives. It is expected that a Biden Administration would follow this trend and issue a series of Executive Orders very quickly after being sworn into office. Many of the first actions will reverse Trump executive actions and reset to Obama-era policies.

Other policy changes will require Congressional action. Democrats maintain a slim majority in the House of Representatives. The fate of the Georgia Senate runoffs will determine which party controls the Senate. If Republicans win at least one of the runoff elections, they will retain control in the Senate. Should Democrats take both seats, the Senate will be evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, with Vice President Harris casting the tiebreaking vote. This would give Democrats control of the House, Senate, and White House, making it much easier to advance their legislative agenda.

OSHA COVID-19 Temporary Emergency Standard

One immediate policy area that will impact all businesses, not just industrial refrigeration, will likely be in workplace health and safety-related to COVID-19. Under the Trump Administration, OSHA has taken the approach of providing guidance to industry on steps to control transmission of COVID-19 in the workplace. This has been criticized by labor advocates and has resulted in several states issuing their own temporary emergency standards that require businesses to take specific actions on COVID-19.

It appears very likely that a Biden Administration led OSHA would move quickly to enact a national temporary emergency standard, moving away from guidance to enforceable requirements. While the details of such a temporary standard are not certain, OSHA could make following CDC and OSHA guidance a regulatory requirement as well as implementing various training and documentation requirements. This would be similar to the approach taken by states including Virginia that have established their own emergency COVID standards. Such a policy could be implemented quickly, without Congressional action, and set the stage for a longer rulemaking process to create a permanent regulation on infectious disease control in the workplace.

On the campaign trail, Biden made addressing climate change a priority. He has pledged that the U.S. will reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. One of the first expected actions is bringing the United States back into the Paris Climate Agreement, which has the goal of limiting global warming. Biden has proposed investing $1.7 trillion in clean energy and green jobs, ending fossil fuel subsidies, and banning on new oil and gas permits on public lands. Some analysts have estimated that Biden’s plan would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 75 gigatons of carbon dioxide by 2050, decreasing global warming by 0.1°C by the end of the century.

Climate Change and HFCs

In addition to rejoining the Paris agreement, it is very likely that a Biden Administration will push for ratification of the Kigali Agreement. The Obama Administration supported the Kigali Agreement, which incorporates the reduction of HFCs as a part of the Montreal Protocol. Under the Obama Administration, EPA began taking steps to curb HFC usage but those efforts were halted when courts ruled that EPA does not currently have the authority to regulate HFCs under the Clean Air Act. Ratification of the Kigali Agreement would give EPA the authority needed to resume policies aimed at reducing HFCs, which would impact the use of many freon-based refrigerants that have higher global warming potentials. Such a move would present opportunities for further promotion of natural refrigerants such as ammonia and CO2 .

Kigali is one of the few climate policies that has bipartisan support and also enjoys some support from industry. In fact, bipartisan legislation has been introduced during the last two Congresses that would give EPA the authority to regulate and reduce the use of HFCs. Even with control of Congress so closely divided, Kigali could be one of the less controversial climate policies that could be able to find enough support from both parties to get approved.

As the industry looks forward to 2021, there will be policy challenges and opportunities presented by a Biden Administration. Moves to curtail future HFC use could present opportunities to advance natural refrigerants. At the same time, regulations related to ammonia are likely to be revisited and have the potential to become more burdensome. And, as the world tries to move past the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses will likely be subject to additional rules for protecting workplaces from the risks of COVID-19 transmission. IIAR will continue to work closely with policymakers and industry partners to promote and protect the interests of the industrial refrigeration industry.