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Biden’s first 100 days of climate action make up for lost time under Trump

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White House Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy’s slip of the tongue at an Earth Day press conference gave reporters a cause to chuckle. “Over the past nearly 100 year of this adminis…,” she began, before catching herself. “I’m sorry, 100 days — feels like years at times.”

No doubt. They have been busy.

Grading a president’s performance in the first 100 days is never easy, but one thing is crystal clear: Never before has a president done so much in so little time to confront the climate emergency.

After elections, presidential campaign promises get put through the meat grinder of political pragmatism. As a long-time advocate for U.S. climate leadership who spent 2020 helping craft an ambitious Day 1 climate agenda for a new president, I was ready for some measure of disappointment.

After all, the bar of expectations was set high. President Biden had not only promised to put America “back in the business of leading the world on climate change,” but also itemized detailed climate plans — including infrastructure, clean energy and environmental justice —that were bolder and more specific than anything put forward in prior presidential campaigns.

Further, the federal agencies Biden had to rely on for climate leadership were in need of defibrillation after suffering four years of climate denial and reckless mismanagement at the hands of former President Trump.

Instead of backtracking or passing the buck, however, Biden has leaned into his climate promises with vigor. The evidence? Here are just four of the many big campaign promises on climate that Biden kept in his first 100 days:

  • Issuing a Day 1 executive order to reverse the damage Trump had done, protect public health, restore climate science and revoke the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline.
  • Proposing the American Jobs Plan a $2 trillion investment plan in infrastructure, clean energy and environmental justice.
  • Rallying the world to the climate emergency, convening an Earth Day summit of world leaders and bringing significant new U.S. commitments to the table to help boost global ambition.
  • Making environmental justice a priority, convening the first-ever White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council and issuing an executive order to ensure that disadvantaged communities receive at least 40 percent of the benefits from federal spending in critical areas.

How has Biden avoided the trap of timid incrementalism? By realigning decades-old political calculus with three uniquely Biden approaches to the climate emergency.

First, Biden is pursuing his climate agenda with a relentless focus on jobs, justice and solutions. When he leads on climate, he puts purpose before process. According to Biden, climate change is a “moment of extraordinary possibilities” to put people to work in good jobs, improve people’s lives and deliver long-overdue relief to suffering communities.

These goals are central to Biden’s presidency. Gone are the days of the climate emergency being treated as an island far removed from the presidential mainland.

Second, instead of proposing a regulation here and a mandate there, he has systematically retooled the federal engine to churn out jobs, justice and climate solutions for four years and beyond. Biden calls this retooling a “whole-of-government” approach to climate, enlisting every agency in the federal government under the leadership of a cabinet he picked with an eye on climate readiness.

In reality, the label understates the power of Biden’s secret sauce. Biden is really inspiring a “whole-of-society” mobilization that puts added wind in the sails of states, communities, businesses and others who have been leading while Washington fiddled.

There is no guarantee that Biden will succeed, but his climate engine has been built with an eye on resiliency to the big challenges that stand in the pathway of transformative change. None loom larger than Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has already attacked Biden’s climate agenda as partisan despite two-thirds of U.S. voters supporting major infrastructure investments in clean energy.

Which brings us to the third, and most important, element of Biden climate approach: putting voters sharply into focus. Biden wants everyone everywhere — from the polluter fence line to the frontlines of climate disasters, red states to blue states, urban to rural — to see and pursue their opportunities to benefit from the cleaner, safer and more prosperous future he wants to build.

Let’s face it: The climate emergency cannot be fixed in 100 days. Grading the first 100 days is essentially a guessing game of what comes next. I have reason for optimism. After former President Obama won reelection, I encountered (then) Vice President Biden on inauguration day. As he poked me repeatedly to underscore the intensity of his message, he promised he and Obama would step up and do more on climate in the second term. Five months later, Obama announced a government-wide climate action plan, the prototype for Biden’s more ambitious approach today.

The verdict: Biden has earned a promising “A” grade on climate action for making up for lost time under Trump, for keeping his campaign promises, and for laying a strong foundation that bodes well for the next 100 days, the next four years and our long-term futures.

Jeremy Symons is principal of Symons Public Affairs. He was the project manager of Climate 21, a blueprint for “whole-of-government” presidential climate leadership. He previously worked at Environmental Defense Fund and for Democrats in the United States Senate.

Tags biden administration clean energy Climate change Donald Trump Fossil fuels Gina McCarthy Global warming Jeremy Symons Joe Biden Mitch McConnell Renewable energy White House climate summit

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