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Biden and the Environment: the First Three Weeks

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By Patrick J. Paul

Three weeks into the administration of President Biden and Vice-President Harris, early indications suggest a commitment to maintaining campaign promises with respect to numerous energy and environmental-related issues including climate change and environmental justice.

On Inauguration Day, January 20, President Biden executed a number of executive orders seeking to undo changes that occurred during the Trump Administration. A reference provided by Columbia Law school indicates that President Trump effectively altered almost 100 environmental rules then in place. Many of those changes will be revisited and likely scaled back.

Executive Order 13990 entitled “Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis,” ordered the heads of executive agencies to “listen to the science” and to prioritize both environmental justice and the creation of well-paying union jobs en route to reducing greenhouse gas emissions while ensuring access to clean air and water and improving public health and the environment. It revoked the Keystone XL Pipeline permit issued in March 2019 declaring “the Keystone XL Pipeline deserves U.S. national interest.”

Executive Order 13992, also issued on Inauguration Day, revoked numerous Trump executive orders including the “two-for-one” reduction requirement when creating new federal regulations. No executive order was required for President Biden to recommit the U.S. to the Paris agreement of December 12, 2015, essentially providing a 30 day notice to the United Nations that America is back on board.

One week later on January 27th, a day President Biden declared as “Climate Day” in the White House, more executive orders were issued. EO 14008 entitled “Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad” squarely puts the climate crisis at the center of United States foreign policy and national security. More councils and task forces were created to study the issue, including the Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and the National Climate Task Force.

Biden created a White House office of  Domestic Climate Policy and instituted former Obama EPA Administrator, Gina McCarthy, as the National Climate Adviser, not to be confused with the Climate Czar, John Kerry. President Biden will host a Leaders Climate Summit on Earth Day, April 22, 2021, to further demonstrate his administration’s commitment to elevating climate in U.S. foreign policy and a climate finance plan.

On the issue of clean energy, President Biden has somewhat of a clean slate given the D.C. Circuit’s vacation of the Trump Affordable Clean Energy Rule on January 19 — the last full day of the Trump Administration. As Gina McCarthy was among the architects of the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, it seems likely that some, if not all, of that plan will be back in force.

Environmental justice also is a consistent theme in the early executive orders of the Biden Administration. Specifically, he created both a White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council and a White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council to prioritize environmental justice and to address current and historical environmental injustices. Although not new to federal environmental policy, environmental justice itself has not been vigorously implemented or pursued. It appears that’s about to change.