By Louis Blumberg, Personal Member of CLC and Member of CLC’s Advisory Board

In the week following his inauguration, United States President Joe Biden launched a comprehensive and aggressive program to combat climate change and restore the country’s global climate leadership role. “I expected the US to ramp up climate action soon but I did not expect the speed and the magnitude with which president Biden and his climate team have acted. This is an impressive start and an excellent basis for effective collaboration with the EU and other like -minded parties,” said Jouni Keronen, Climate Leadership Coalition’s CEO. President Biden declared he would adopt a “Whole-of-Government Approach” to climate change that would create jobs, build infrastructure, promote environmental justice, reduce the carbon footprint of government and restore the role for science in decision making.

On his first day in office, President Biden re-joined the Paris Climate Agreement sending an encouraging signal for real progress to climate leaders in Finland, the EU and around the world. He also signed an executive order that:

  • established an Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Greenhouse Gas Emissions, popularly known as the “social cost of carbon.” The order defines the product and schedule for the working group and designates the Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, the Director of Office of Management and Budget and the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy to lead it. The order states that, “It is essential that agencies capture the full costs of greenhouse gas emissions as accurately as possible, including by taking global damages into account. Doing so facilitates sound decision-making, recognizes the breadth of climate impacts, and supports the international leadership of the United States on climate issues.” This action could support a CLC proposal to establish a carbon price consortium that includes the US, EU China, and other countries.
  • ordered a review of harmful standards issued by the Trump administration that rolled back protection of air, water and communities,
  • restored the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology,
  • ordered a review of to the boundaries of National Monuments that were reduced by the Trump administration and recommendations for restoring them,
  • placed a temporary moratorium on all oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and restored protection of certain offshore areas in Arctic waters and the Bering Sea from oil and gas drilling that President Obama had put in place.

President Biden quickly made many key appointments to advance his climate agenda and he created two new high-level climate positions. He appointed John Kerry as the US International Envoy for Climate Change and as a member of the National Security Council ensuring that for the first time, climate change would be considered in all national security decisions. And he appointed Gina McCarthy to be the first National Climate Advisor in a new White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy. Both are very experienced and committed climate leaders. For example, as US Secretary of State, Kerry helped to negotiate the Paris Climate Agreement and Ms. McCarthy led the US Environmental Protection Agency during the Obama administration when it adopted stringent regulations for greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

A week later on “Climate Day,” 27 January, a day that author Bill McKibben described as “the most remarkable day in the history of America’s official response to the climate crisis,” President Biden signed a multitude of executive orders signaling that climate change is a priority across the federal government. Here are just some of the actions he took: He

  • directed that the power sector to be carbon free by 2034 and the United States would adopt a plan to become net-zero economy by 2050
  • directed federal agencies to procure carbon pollution-free electricity and clean, zero-emission vehicles to create good-paying, union jobs and stimulate clean energy industries.
  • directed each federal agency to develop a plan to increase the resilience of its facilities and operations to the impacts of climate change
  • directed the Secretary of the Interior to stop new oil and natural gas leases on public lands or offshore waters pending review
  • directed federal agencies to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies consistent with law
  • directed steps to ensure that every federal infrastructure investment reduces climate pollution to rebuild infrastructure for a sustainable economy

To advance conservation, agriculture, and reforestation,

  • The order commits to the goal of conserving at least 30 percent of our lands and oceans by 2030
  • directs 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 produce verifiable carbon reductions and sequestrations and create new sources of income and jobs for rural Americans.

To revitalize communities dependent on energy, secure environmental justice and support a just transition to a sustainable economy, the order:

  • establishes an Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization
  • directs federal agencies to develop programs, policies, and activities to address the disproportionate health, environmental, economic, and climate impacts on disadvantaged communities.
  • establishes a White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council and a White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council
  • creates a government-wide Justice40 Initiative with the goal of delivering 40 percent of the overall benefits of relevant federal investments to disadvantaged communities

President Biden also issued a memorandum on scientific integrity directing agencies to make evidence-based decisions guided by the best available science and data.

President Biden is off to great start demonstrating strong, informed leadership using the powers available to him forcefully and effectively however, to make-lasting change and even greater progress, he will need to use all of his legislative and negotiation skills to get support from Congress. He has a great team behind him and strong public support and just maybe, he will make the difference, break the barriers and enable us to leave a sustainable planet for future generations. Hope is renewed – we can all breathe easier.

Blumberg Blogs USA is authored by Louis Blumberg, former Director for Climate Change at the Nature Conservancy’s California Chapter. Blumberg Blog focuses on the main developments the US will take in climate action and the blog will appear regularly on CLC’s website during 2021.