Energy & Environment

Biden expected to issue swift reversals on climate

Getty Images

Early action on climate change from President-elect Joe Biden is likely to start with a series of executive orders reversing President Trump’s environmental policies, laying the groundwork for an administration that has vowed to sharply curb emissions.

Environmentalists are optimistic about Biden’s climate agenda, particularly given his remarks on the topic both before and after the election. On Saturday, after he surged across the 270 electoral vote threshold, Biden cited “the battle to save the climate” among his top five priorities, calling for the nation to “marshal the forces of science” along with decency, hope and fairness.

“The fact that climate has made it into every speech — it’s one of top issues on the transition website — I think that really bodes well for taking the federal agencies and shaking them by their shoulders and turning them into the light,” said Nada Culver, an attorney with the Audubon Society.

“And that’s exciting because without that commitment it’s difficult to move a big bureaucracy forward. There’s a lot to be done. We’ve lost four years when we could have been doing important work,” Culver added.

Biden certainly faces a monumental task: The Trump administration has rolled back more than 100 environmental regulations and encouraged deregulation of polluting industries.

But his pledge to undo Trump administration rollbacks will likely require lengthy rulemaking of his own, while implementing his ambitious plan for reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 could run up against GOP senators, who appear poised to keep their majority in the Senate.

Biden has long said he will join the Paris climate accord on Day One of his presidency, and halting new leases for drilling oil on public land is another item atop his list. From there, he could target a number of Trump orders, including those that greenlit controversial projects like the Keystone XL pipeline and scaled down national monuments.

Environmental advocates say reversing Trump’s decision to shrink the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments are some of the quickest actions Biden can take.

“That can be very quickly reversed. It’s essentially the exercise of presidential authority,” said Drew Caputo, vice president of litigation for lands, wildlife and oceans at Earthjustice, adding it’s his group’s “expectation and hope” that Biden will take swift action.

Caputo also said that Biden may have a quick route to one of his most significant regulatory goals — halting new oil and gas leases on federal lands and waters.

“The new administration would have wide discretion to … put in place a moratorium on new oil and gas leasing while they did a full analysis of the program,“ he said.

Meanwhile, Biden’s campaign has already pledged he will revoke the Keystone XL pipeline permit.

“The permit is not just for the construction, it’s for operation, and so yes, the president in the Keystone context, we believe, could come in and revoke the permit,” said Jared Margolis, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity.

TC Energy, the company behind the Keystone pipeline, said in an email that the project “has been studied numerous times at the federal and state level, with each showing it can be built in a safe and environmentally responsible manner.”

Another early first move discussed by his campaign would involve naming a climate czar to shepherd all the long-term plans and organize efforts across a number of departments.

Other early executive orders could hit on messaging, advocates said, but that doesn’t mean they’re toothless. Culver credited Trump’s “energy dominance” order with setting the tone for much of his administration.

“There might be executive orders that signal affirmative values and policies like support for science and action on climate change and sustainable purchasing power by the federal government,” said John Walke, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Additional measures could get the ball rolling on eroding Trump’s energy legacy.

Biden could sign orders to reverse agency policies or force agencies to stop defending certain policies in court — a tactic commonly practiced by the Trump administration.

To that end, Biden could instruct the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department to begin the process of reversing all of Trump’s climate rollbacks, an effort that would require months if not years of rulemaking.

Meanwhile agencies could reverse their position on a number of Trump administration rollbacks, ranging from weakening fuel economy standards to narrowing the scope of which bodies of water receive federal protections. 

“I think you will have a flurry and combination of those approaches in January, February, March of 2021,” Walke said. “And those actions will accord with the Biden administration’s own policy direction and preferences to disavow the Trump rollbacks that they oppose.”

On the legislative front, Biden could push for climate change measures in stimulus talks next year.

Melinda Pierce, legislative director for the Sierra Club, said any stimulus package in the lame-duck session won’t be fertile ground for Biden priorities, but a broader package passed next year could.

“Having two legs of the stool is a lot more powerful than just having [Speaker] Nancy Pelosi [D-Calif.] in the room facing off with the White House and recalcitrant Senate,” she said.

Biden has consistently framed climate as part of his economic vision, a way to inject as much as $2 trillion into renewable energy, retrofitting homes and buildings, and investing in infrastructure like public transit and electric vehicle charging stations.

“There is a lot of work to do from getting the virus under control to putting Americans back to work that Democrats and Republicans should feel an urgency to work together,” the Biden transition team said in a statement to The Hill.

It’s not yet clear what form a stimulus package might take, whether it’s a broader economic relief measure or a long-awaited infrastructure plan.

“Where I think climate proposals have the best opportunity is in infrastructure,” Pierce said. “Those are equal opportunity pork, so we might have green ham.”

Tags Climate change climate czar Donald Trump executive orders Infrastructure Joe Biden Nancy Pelosi Rulemaking Stimulus

The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.

See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video