President Biden Comes Out the Gate With Climate, Energy Moves
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President Biden Comes Out the Gate With Climate, Energy Moves
Cathy Landry
/ Categories: Blog

President Biden Comes Out the Gate With Climate, Energy Moves

President Biden issued a series of executive orders within hours of taking the oath of office to reverse many of Trump’s orders, including a host related to climate, the environment and energy. 

One of his very first actions was to rejoin the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Biden also directed all executive departments and agencies to immediately review and take appropriate action “to address federal regulations and other executive actions taken during the last four years that were harmful to public health, damaging to the environment, unsupported by the best available science, or otherwise not in the national interest…” 

He specifically outlined several, specific actions including: 

  1. Directing agencies to consider revising vehicle fuel economy and emissions standards, methane emissions standards, and appliance and building efficiency standards to ensure that such standards cut pollution, save consumers money, and create good union jobs; 

  1. Directing the Department of Interior to place a temporary (60-day) moratorium on all oil and natural gas leasing activities in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; 

  1. Re-establishing the Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Greenhouse Gases (GHG) and directing the issuance of an interim social cost of GHG schedule to ensure that agencies account for the full costs of GHG emissions, including climate risk, environmental justice and intergenerational equity; and 

  1. Revoking the Presidential permit granted to the Keystone XL pipeline. 

Later that same day, Acting Interior Secretary Scott de la Vega suspended new oil and gas leasing and drilling by the U.S. government for 60 days. The action drew backlash from the oil industry. 

On January 27, dubbed “Climate Day” by the administration, President Biden doubled down, signing an executive order to freeze the issuance of permits for new oil and gas lease on public lands and waters “to the extent possible.” (The order does not include development on tribal lands). Biden also sought to infuse social justice and climate into decision making across the government. 

Some of the new measures announced on Climate Day, include: 

  • Taking steps to address the higher pollution exposure among the poor and communities of color. This includes a "Justice40 Initiative" aimed at "delivering 40 percent of the overall benefits of relevant federal investments to disadvantaged communities." 

  • Creating a new task force of 21 agencies and departments to "enable a whole-of-government" approach to climate. 

  • Directing agencies to "coordinate investments and other efforts to assist coal, oil and natural gas, and power plant communities." 

  • Elevating climate's role in foreign and security policy, such as requesting a national intelligence estimate on the security implications of climate change. 

  • Setting a target of conserving 30% of the nation's lands and oceans by 2030. 

  • Scheduling an April 22 (Earth Day) summit with world leaders to consider greater emissions-cutting efforts. 

  • Requiring agencies to procure carbon-free power and zero-emissions vehicles. 

The decision to freeze new leasing on federal lands and waters faces fierce pushback from the oil industry. While federal areas have decreased in importance due to the growth in hydraulic fracturing on private lands, the American Petroleum Institute estimates that federal areas account for 22% of U.S. oil production and 12% of natural gas output. “Restricting development on federal lands and waters is nothing more than an 'import more oil' policy," API president Mike Sommers said in a statement. 

While Biden will likely continue to look to additional executive and regulatory actions to enact his $2 trillion environmental plan, major climate change legislation will be difficult to achieve (see story below). Democrats are divided on the subject, and Biden is unlikely to pick up much, if any, Republican support. Democrats have tried and failed to pass stand-alone climate change legislation when they last controlled unified government. Expect smaller legislative proposals that can ride inside stimulus, infrastructure and appropriations measures.  

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