In his first week as president, Joe Biden’s climate plan did more for climate action than his predecessor did in four years. On January 27th U.S. President Biden signed a raft of executive actions. that focus on the interrelated issues of climate change, environmental justice, infrastructure investments, and job creation. These moves build on the executive actions he signed on his first day in office. This includes beginning the process of reversing the environmentally destructive legacy of his predecessor. At a January 27th press briefing, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said, “President Biden is continuing to follow through on his key promise to take swift and bold action that addresses the climate crisis, building on his day-one actions of rejoining the Paris Agreement and strengthening our clean air and water protections and holding polluters accountable.” The press conference was attended by Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry and National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy.
Climate action is centerstage
President Biden is bringing the full weight of federal authority to bear on the fight against climate change. Biden’s whole government approach directs federal employees to use every available tool to address the climate crisis. He has instructed all U.S. agencies to develop strategies that integrate climate considerations.
President Biden’s ambitious executive actions have both domestic and global implications. His orders build on the Paris Agreement and in a bold move designed to ratchet-up reductions in global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the President announced that he will host a Leaders Summit on Climate Change, on Earth Day, April 22nd. The president also put in motion a U.S. climate finance plan that will help poorer nations manage the climate crisis.
Biden’s executive actions ensure that climate change will be a core consideration throughout the entire federal government. One of his executive actions reads: “It is the policy of this administration that climate considerations shall be an essential element of U.S. foreign policy and national security.” Biden’s Special Presidential Envoy for Climate has been given a seat on the National Security Council and he has the authority to drive a process that will restore America’s international leadership.
Reinforcing this administration’s commitment to prioritize climate action, former EPA chief Gina McCarthy was appointed to the position of National Climate Advisor where she will oversee the White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy that will coordinate and implement Biden’s domestic climate agenda.
Biden’s Executive Order (EO) calls for the formation of a National Climate Task Force that will develop a plan to reduce GHGs. The Task Force will include the leaders of 21 federal agencies and departments. All federal agencies have been instructed to increase the resilience of facilities under their control as well as report on their efforts and improve their forecasting capabilities. The EO creates new platforms to coordinate climate action across the federal government and it commissions a National Intelligence Estimate on the security implications of climate change that will bring together all 17 American intelligence agencies to assess the dangers, damages and potential risks.
Scientific integrity stronger than ever
President Biden has made good on his pledge to give scientific evidence a prominent place in his administration. The Presidential Memorandum on scientific integrity positions science to play a critical role in every federal government department and agency ensuring that the best-available evidence will drive the administration’s policy agenda. As Kerry succinctly explained we are acting on climate change because, “the science tells us we have to.”
The memorandum explicitly directs federal agencies to make decisions based on scientific data. As explained by administrator McCarthy, The memorandum, “aims to restore scientific integrity across the federal government and earn back the public’s trust.” The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to protecting scientists from political interference and this is a marked departure from the previous administration in which scientists were not free to examine the facts and speak about their research.
President Biden signed an EO re-establishing the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and he charges the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) with the responsibility of ensuring scientific integrity across federal agencies. All agencies must designate a senior career employee as the agency’s Scientific Integrity Official to oversee implementation and improvement of scientific-integrity policies and processes. Agencies that oversee, direct, or fund research are tasked with designating a senior agency employee as Chief Science Officer to ensure agency research programs are scientifically and technologically well founded and conducted with integrity.
Environmental justice for all
Biden’s executive actions include historic efforts to deliver justice to communities that have been subjected to environmental harm. His executive actions create a government-wide effort called the “Justice40 Initiative” that seeks to deliver 40 percent of the overall benefits of relevant federal investments to disadvantaged communities. These efforts will be tracked with an Environmental Justice Scorecard. A Climate and Environmental Justice Screening Tool will identify disadvantaged communities and inform equitable decision making across the federal government.
The order directs federal agencies to develop programs, policies, and activities to address the disproportionate health, environmental, economic, and climate impacts on disadvantaged communities. It establishes a White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council and a White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council to prioritize environmental justice and ensure that the entire federal government addresses both current and historical environmental injustices.
There will be more monitoring and enforcement through the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Justice, and Department of Health and Human Services. Biden has also directed the Department of Health and Human Services to create an Office of Climate Change and Health Equity.
Infrastructure, clean energy and jobs
While the previous administration failed to invest in infrastructure, Biden and his team have positioned infrastructure investments at the center of their policy agenda. President Biden’s executive actions ensure that every federal infrastructure investment reduces GHG emissions and accelerates clean energy projects.
Biden Build Back Better economic recovery plan is the blueprint for a clean energy revolution that seeks to eliminate carbon emission in the power sector by 2030 and zero out emissions economy wide by 2050. Biden’s executive actions leverage federal siting and permitting processes to accelerate clean energy and transmission projects. Biden called on the Secretary of the Interior to identify steps that can be taken to double renewable energy production from offshore wind by 2030. He instructed the DOI to identify new opportunities to spur innovation, commercialization, and deployment of clean energy technologies and infrastructure.
These efforts will accelerate surging renewable energy capacity across the country. A recent study found that the costs of renewables is less than fossil fuels. As Administrator McCarthy pointed out clean energy alternatives are competing effectively against fossil fuels and she concluded they are “going to lead to that future we want to hand to our children”.
Jobs are a key part of Biden’s plan. These jobs will come largely from rebuilding infrastructure particularly in the efficiency and energy sectors. A recently signed order directs federal agencies to procure clean energy and emissions free vehicles. This will drive a surge in demand that will accelerate an ongoing employment boom. Administrator McCarthy explained that Biden’s plan is all about job creation in response to economic weakness. “[W]e’re explicitly doing this because our economy is right now stagnant,” MarCarthy said, adding, these efforts will boost the economy and create jobs.
Revitalization of fossil fuels communities
President Biden wants to transition away from fossil fuels, but he also wants to take care of the communities that depend on them. Biden’s order directs the Secretary of the Interior to pause all new oil and natural gas leases on public lands or offshore waters (fossil fuels from federal lands and waters account for almost 25 percent of U.S. CO2 emissions). His order mandates a rigorous review of all existing leases and permitting practices related to fossil fuel development on public lands and waters. . President Biden said he will ask the U.S. Congress to eliminate subsidies for fossil fuels.
Secretary Kerry points out that there are far more jobs being provided by renewable energy than there are jobs in the fossil fuel sector. He explained that resistance to fossil fuel moratoriums is due to the fact that, “workers have been fed a false narrative…For the last few years, they’ve been fed the notion that, somehow, dealing with climate is coming at their expense. No, it’s not,” Kerry said adding, “What’s happening to them is happening because of other market forces already taking place,” However the Biden government has made it clear that it is prepared to help those who are being hurt by the changing energy tides.
Biden established an Interagency Working Group that is designed to help revitalize fossil fuel communities through investment and other efforts. The Working Group is also tasked with reducing toxins and GHG emissions from new and old infrastructure. This includes the pervasive problem of methane leaks from abandoned wells.
Conservation, restoration and agriculture
President Biden’s executive actions strive to reduce biodiversity loss and minimize habitat degradation. He has committed the U.S. to conserve at least 30 percent of the land and ocean in the country by 2030.
His actions include the establishment of a Civilian Climate Corps Initiative that will put Americans to work restoring public lands and waters, increasing reforestation, advancing carbon sequestration in the agricultural sector, protecting biodiversity, and addressing climate change.
The president also instructed the Secretary of Agriculture to collect input from farmers, ranchers, and other stakeholders on how to use federal programs to encourage adoption of climate-smart agricultural practices that can reduce or sequester carbon and create new sources of income and jobs for rural Americans.
Time to act
The Biden administration understands the need for urgent action, as Secretary Kerry explained, “The stakes on climate change just simply couldn’t be any higher than they are right now. It is existential.”
The scale of the challenges faced by the Biden administration are daunting. However, the speed with which the new administration has acted gives Americans every reason to believe that they will continue to deliver on their promises. “So, yes, there are a lot of challenges right now, which, sadly, all of them were exacerbated by the last four years,” Kerry said. “Now we have to try to make up for that. And that is a hard pull, but this President is capable of doing it, and he’s putting together a great team.”
In response to concerns about the costs of climate action Kerry pointed to the costs of extreme weather and he said, “There are countless economic analyses now that show that it is now cheaper to deal with the crisis of climate than it is to ignore it.” adding, “We spent $265 billion, two years ago, on three — three storms: Irma, Harvey, and Maria. Maria destroyed Puerto Rico. Harvey dropped more water on Houston in five days than goes over Niagara Falls in a year. And Irma had the first recorded winds at 185 miles an hour for 24 sustained hours. Last year we had one storm — $55 billion. So we’re spending the money, folks. We’re just not doing it smart, and we’re not doing it in a way that would actually sustain us for the long term.”
The urgency of climate action is underscored by last year’s record breaking heat, storms and wildfires, However, we can expect that the fossil fuel industry and their minions in the Republican party will continue to deploy disinformation to derail the Biden agenda. Only one week into the new administration and we have already seen court actions challenging Biden’s executive agenda. However, Heather Zichal, who served as deputy assistant for energy and climate change under President Obama, told the LA Times environmental regulators and policy advisors have become more savvy about crafting executive orders that will withstand legal challenges.
The American Petroleum Institute (API), has a long history of disinformation, and predictably, they are critical of President Biden’s executive actions. But their manipulative schemes appear destined to fail as polls now indicate that Americans want their government to act on climate change. President Biden summarized the prevailing sentiments of Americans when he said, “We’ve already waited too long to deal with this climate crisis. We can’t wait any longer. We see it with our own eyes, we feel it, we know it in our bones. And it’s time to act.”