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Biden honeymoon with green groups faces tests

Biden honeymoon with green groups faces tests
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President BidenJoe BidenBiden's quiet diplomacy under pressure as Israel-Hamas fighting intensifies Overnight Defense: Administration approves 5M arms sale to Israel | Biden backs ceasefire in call with Netanyahu | Military sexual assault reform push reaches turning point CDC mask update sparks confusion, opposition MORE is enjoying a honeymoon with many environmental advocates after coming under criticism during the 2020 Democratic presidential primary from green activist groups pressing him to be more ambitious on climate change.

Biden gained favor from a number of groups after winning the Democratic nomination by shifting to the left on climate change and working with progressives, some with ties to Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSenators shed masks after CDC lifts mandate Sunrise Movement endorses Nina Turner in special election for Ohio House seat The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Israel-Hamas carnage worsens; Dems face SALT dilemma MORE (I-Vt.), as part of a unity effort. 

Since taking office, Biden has revoked a key permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, rejoined the Paris climate agreement and issued a temporary pause on new oil and gas leases for federal lands. 

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The moves come with some risks for Biden even as they have drawn applause from climate groups.

Republicans aiming to cast Biden’s politics as hurting the economy have blasted the Keystone and leasing decisions, and there has been some criticism from centrist Democrats such as Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinSenators shed masks after CDC lifts mandate Manchin, Murkowski call for bipartisan Voting Rights Act reauthorization The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Israel-Hamas carnage worsens; Dems face SALT dilemma MORE (W.Va.). 

Yet as Biden keeps an eye on that flank of his party, his administration also could face tests in the coming months from climate groups. 

The administration has yet to make important decisions like laying out an updated goal for emissions reductions under the Paris agreement and whether to shut down the Dakota Access pipeline. If Biden doesn’t move to the environmentalists’ satisfaction on these issues, his honeymoon could be cut short.   

Elizabeth Gore, the Environmental Defense Fund’s senior vice president for political affairs, gives Biden high marks so far but says her group will be focused on how the Biden administration updates its plan to reduce emissions under the Paris agreement. The update is expected in April.

She also wants to see how the administration seeks to reduce emissions in the transportation and power sectors, though she expressed optimism that Biden’s team will take strong action. 

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“There’s no reason to think that we won’t continue to see that kind of commitment to climate action and a clean environment going forward,” Gore said. 

April is set to be a key period for the climate groups and Biden.

The administration is expected to say that month whether it will shut down the Dakota Access pipeline after a court ruled against the prior administration’s decision to grant passage for the pipeline’s construction. 

Other issues the green groups will be scrutinizing include White House decisions on political appointees for major agencies including the Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service. 

Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, says he’ll be watching closely to see how well the administration follows through on its stated goal of conserving 30 percent of the country’s lands and waters by 2030.

“The devil is in the details about how all of this is implemented, and that’s just an open question,” Hartl said. “Take the 30 by ’30 ... or even the leasing moratorium. Both of them put us on a path to make strong decisions down the road, but obviously they can end up in a place that is weaker than they should be.”

The environmentalists emphasized that just because they like the Biden administration so far doesn’t mean they don’t need to be vigilant. 

Ramón Cruz, president of the Sierra Club, praised Biden’s focus on climate and his inclusion of environmental inequities faced by disadvantaged communities in his plans. 

“He’s wasting no time in confronting the climate crisis, he’s standing up to the level that is needed to address this,” Cruz said.  “Most importantly, he has been doing this work by centering justice and equity.”

At the same time, Cruz said it “doesn’t mean that now we can just pack our things and go on vacation,” adding, “We’ll collaborate but also push them to do better.” 

Environmental groups also noted that while they had a much better relationship with the Obama administration than the Trump administration, which pulled the United States from the Paris agreement and sought to undo regulations intended to reduce emissions, it was not without its faults. 

One area of contention was an air quality standard for ozone, the main component of smog. In 2011, the Obama White House decided not to move forward with a rule that would have tightened air quality standards for ozone, exposure to which has been linked to health problems like asthma.

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It did update the standard in 2015, but some environmentalists said at the time that the new standard still wasn’t tight enough. 

“There’s a lot of returning characters,” Hartl said. “I hope they learned some lessons in the Obama years.”

John Paul Mejia, a spokesperson with the youth-led Sunrise Movement, said that Biden should do more to achieve “systemic and progressive action on COVID, climate and the economy.”

“These are spiraling crises that we can all tackle at the same time, and I think it’s time that he delivers on that,” Mejia said. 

He advocated for a “green recovery” that includes $2,000 checks, state and local aid and creating jobs through programs like the Civilian Climate Corps, which Biden called for the establishment of in an executive order. 

“We saw Biden in one day take more action than Obama took in years of his presidency,” Mejia, said. “What the Biden administration is really going to have to ... wake up on is that the only way to retain power in their party and in government is by delivering.”