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Biden to champion climate action in 2021
Climate change is poised to receive a much bigger spotlight in 2021 as President-elect Joe Biden’s incoming administration puts a renewed focus on tackling various environmental and energy issues.
Biden has made combating climate change one of his top priorities when he enters office and has set a goal to make the U.S. carbon neutral by 2050 while pushing different ways to reduce emissions.
While Biden’s focus on climate change is set to mark a drastic shift in U.S. policy compared to the Trump administration, complexities in the rulemaking process and pushback from a likely divided government could slow some of his moves.
Here’s what to watch on environmental policy in 2021:
Biden is expected to take several actions in the new year aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
He has promised to sign executive orders on his first day in office that “put us on the right track” toward net-zero emissions by 2050 and a 100 percent clean energy economy, though what those orders will say exactly is unclear.
One step he’s expected to take is reviving a major Obama-era rule governing fuel economy standards that the Trump administration rolled back. The previous rule pushed automakers to produce fleets averaging 55 miles per gallon by 2025, while Trump officials relaxed it to 40 mpg by 2026.
The new administration also plans to require “aggressive” methane pollution limits for oil and gas producers. An analysis from September found that the Trump administration’s rules could cause an extra 1.8 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions over 15 years.
The Trump administration’s weakening of coal-fired power plant regulations and rescission of a regulation that would have phased out the use of greenhouse gases called hydrofluorocarbons in appliances are also likely to be targeted by environmentalists in the new year.
Biden has further said he wants to end subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, which could harm the industry and help shift the country more toward renewable energy.
Making climate part of diplomacy
Biden has signaled he’ll incorporate climate change into foreign policy, tapping former Secretary of State John Kerry as a climate envoy and pledging to rejoin the Paris climate agreement on day one.
Kerry, who will sit on the National Security Council, has said since his new role was announced that “Paris alone is not enough.”
Biden has pledged in his first 100 days to meet with leaders of the countries with the most carbon emissions to persuade them to set more ambitious goals.
He has also said he would push for international agreements aimed at lowering emissions from shipping and aviation, and he has pledged to “embrace” an international agreement called the Kigali amendment that aims to reduce the use of hydrofluorocarbons.
Less drilling, more conservation for public lands
The Biden administration is expected to lessen fossil fuel production on public lands and take steps to increase public lands conservation.
Biden’s plan calls for banning new oil and gas drilling permits on public lands and in public waters. He has not called for the end of existing permits to drill on federally owned lands and waters, but has endorsed boosting payments to the government to account for climate costs.
In addition to trying to prevent new drilling in general, Biden has vowed to “permanently” protect a wildlife refuge in Alaska where the Trump administration advanced drilling. Biden may have a hard time avoiding oil and gas production there, since a 2017 law requires two drilling lease sales in the refuge by the end of 2024, but there are steps he can take to limit drilling there or create obstacles.
Biden has said he wants to create programs for producing renewable energy on public lands and waters, and specifically wants to double offshore wind by 2030.
He will also push to make more of America’s lands public, with his climate plan calling for conserving 30 percent of the nation’s lands by 2030. According to the left-wing Center for American Progress, the U.S. was conserving 12 percent of its lands as of 2018.
Focusing on environmental justice
Biden has floated putting a major focus on addressing environmental inequities faced by marginalized groups, which more often live near polluting facilities and may suffer health issues as a result.
As president, Biden has said he will “revise and reinvigorate” a 1994 executive order on environmental justice and will create an Environmental and Climate Justice Division at the Justice Department to enforce environmental rules and support climate litigation against polluters.
He has also said he would target 40 percent of clean energy investments to disadvantaged communities while his White House will publish a report in its first 100 days on strategies and technology to improve air and water quality.
Navigating a likely divided Congress
While Biden can achieve some goals unilaterally, others would require Democrats pulling out victories in two Georgia Senate runoffs in January to take total control of Congress — an unlikely scenario.
If Republicans keep at least one of the two Georgia seats, they would maintain their Senate majority and the power to stymie climate legislation and possibly some of Biden’s Cabinet picks.
Still, Biden has said he will demand that Congress pass legislation establishing climate targets, investing in clean energy and climate research, and incentivizing fast deployment of clean energy.
He’s also said he would “seek additional legislation to hold corporate executives personally accountable” for environmental law violations.
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