President Joe Biden signed comprehensive executive orders on Wednesday to force the federal government to plan and respond to the urgent threat posed by a warming planet, and set out his historic vision for how the United States can become a global climate leader again.
The measures will stop new fossil fuel leases on public land, encourage the development and conservation of renewable energy, and create new government offices and interaction groups to prioritize job creation, pollution removal and environmental justice.
Since taking office last week, Biden and his cabinet candidates have repeatedly stated that addressing the climate crisis is one of their top priorities. With these new measures, Biden explains how he intends to achieve this by placing the federal government at the center of the response.
“The United States and the world are facing a profound climate crisis,” said the main regulation signed by Biden. “We have a tight time to take action at home and abroad to avoid the most catastrophic effects of this crisis and to seize the opportunity that comes from combating climate change.”
Biden’s early climate change movements are in stark contrast to former President Donald Trump’s actions, which included getting climate change off the White House website immediately, preventing climate action, and using his executive powers to fuel oil, gas and coal development .
Biden’s initial climate action was a direct response to Trump, including instructing his staff to review more than 100 Trump-enacted environmental laws and initiate the process for the country to rejoin the Paris Agreement. However, these new measures go far beyond reversing Trump’s actions or even reinstating climate change initiatives that former President Barack Obama first advocated.
“Today makes it clear that President Biden hears the demands of our generation loud and clear, understands the power of our movement and is serious about using executive power to deliver on his election promises,” said Varshini Prakash, executive director of Sunrise Movement, in a statement.
As part of a comprehensive new executive order, Biden instructs the Ministry of the Interior to suspend new oil and gas leases on public land and offshore waters “as much as possible” for an indefinite period. The ordinance does not prohibit new coal leases and leaves fossil fuel leases in tribal areas to their discretion.
In addition, Biden is leading a review of existing fossil fuel lease and development projects and asks the Home Office to find ways to advance federally owned water and land projects for renewable energy, particularly offshore wind turbines.
The American Petroleum Institute, an oil and gas trading association, opposed the new restrictions. “Restricting the leasing and development of natural gas and oil in states and waters could jeopardize US energy security, economic growth and well-paid American jobs,” tweeted API.
While the contract would not affect most of the country’s oil and gas drilling and coal mining operations that take place on private land, it could still have a significant impact on the climate. Fossil fuel extraction from public land between 2005 and 2014 accounted for around 25% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions during that time, according to a report by the United States Geological Survey.
An essential part of the implementing regulations is the creation of new offices and committees to deal with specific climate problems and goals. In addition to formally establishing a new White House home affairs office under the direction of Gina McCarthy, a former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Biden on Wednesday set up a national climate task force that instructs members across agencies and departments to “one entity to enable government approach to tackling the climate crisis, ”reads a White House memo.
Biden is also creating a Civilian Climate Corps Initiative to Create New Jobs in Conservation, an Interagency Working Group for Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization to take on projects to reduce pollution from existing and abandoned fossil fuel infrastructures, including the Interagency Council for Environmental Justice in White House and Environmental Justice Advisory Council at the White House to promote the surveillance and enforcement of environmental justice.
Few details have been given about exactly who will lead the many new endeavors, how much money they will receive, or what timelines will apply to achieving these bold goals.
In most cases, Biden’s actions keep his climate campaign promises, for example the promise to provide 30% of public land and water for nature conservation by 2030 and to hold an international climate summit in its first 100 days – one will take place on Earth Day April 22, 2021 .
“The past four years have been a feeding frenzy in our public areas and bodies of water, and this moratorium is the right way to begin our long overdue transition to a more sustainable economy,” said Rep. Raúl Grijalva, Democrat from Arizona and chairman of the House Committee on natural resources. Grijalva was a co-sponsor of the Ocean-Based Climate Solutions Act of 2020 last year, which also supports the 30% conservation goal. He said Congress would now push the bill.
“The commitment to climate change just couldn’t be any higher than it is now,” said John Kerry, the president’s special envoy for climate, at a press conference Wednesday.
“Convening this summit is crucial to ensure that 2021 will be the year to make up for the lost time of the past four years,” he added, referring to the upcoming climate change meeting. “The world will measure us by what we can do here at home.”
In addition, McCarthy said on Wednesday that the US plans to publish its updated climate commitment to the Paris climate agreement before the April summit.
As part of a separate memorandum on scientific integrity, Biden is reinstating the scientific advisory committees that were disbanded under Trump. Separately, he is also restarting the President’s Advisory Board for Science and Technology.