President Biden on Wednesday took a host of executive actions centered around promoting environmental justice, building a green economy, and fostering what he calls a “whole of government” approach to taking on the climate crisis. The actions amount to a top-to-bottom overhaul of the government’s approach to what the president has called the “number one issue facing humanity.”
“It’s about jobs. It’s about workers. It’s about building our economy back better than before,” Biden said prior to signing the orders. “It’s a whole of government approach to putting climate change at the center of our domestic, national security, and foreign policy. It’s advancing conservation, revitalizing communities and cities and farmland, and ensuring environmental justice.”
Here are some of the actions Biden took on Wednesday:
- He directed the Department of the Interior to pause all new oil and gas leasing on federal lands, and to launch a “rigorous” review of all existing fossil-fuel leases. He also directed the DOI to conserve 30 percent of all federal land and water by 2030.
- He called for federal agencies to eliminate fossil-fuel subsidies.
- He classified the climate crisis as a national security and foreign policy priority, ensuring it will now factor into decision-making on both fronts.
- He announced he will convene a climate summit of world leaders on April 22nd.
- He created a White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy; a National Climate Task Force that will include leaders from 21 federal agencies; a Civilian Climate Corps Initiative; an Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization; a White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council; a White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council; and a President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.
- He made John Kerry’s role as the new Special Envoy for Climate official. Same goes for Gina McCarthy’s gig as the first National Climate Advisor. Kerry will have a seat on the National Security Council, and McCarthy will head up the White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy.
- He 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,” and to develop plans “to increase the resilience of its facilities and operations.”
- He created a Justice40 Initiative tasked with delivering 40 percent of the “overall benefits of relevant federal investments to disadvantaged communities and tracks performance toward that goal through the establishment of an Environmental Justice Scorecard.”
The actions on Wednesday aren’t the first Biden has taken to combat the climate crisis. Hours after he was inaugurated, he moved to rejoin the Paris Agreement, an order that will take effect within 30 days. He also revoked the permit Trump awarded to the operators of the Keystone XL Pipeline, and ordered all agencies and departments to conduct a review of actions taken by the previous administration “that were harmful to public health, damaging to the environment, unsupported by the best available science, or otherwise not in the national interest.”
In other words, it’s been an encouraging first week in office. “It’s hard to imagine the week could have gone better,” Sierra Club Executive Director Mike Brune tells Rolling Stone. “We’re going from having the the worst president in the history of our country with regards to protecting the environment to someone who has the most ambitious set of environmental proposals in our country’s history, and has gone to work from day one on addressing some of these enormous challenges.”
While re-entering the Paris Agreement, revoking the Keystone XL permit, and calling for a revue of the past four years of ignorance were necessary steps, Biden’s actions on Wednesday represent a whole new level of commitment to taking on the climate crisis. This is no longer simply an environmental issue for the EPA and Department of Interior to handle. Addressing climate change has now been seeded into the operations of the entirety of the federal government. It will inform how the U.S. approaches foreign policy, national security, economic development, infrastructure initiatives, and more — all with an emphasis on justice and job creation.
The problem is that Biden himself can only accomplish so much. In the end, Congress is going to have to take action to address the issue, which isn’t going to be easy considering the obstinance of the GOP and how many representatives have ties to the fossil-fuel industry. “We want Congress to join the rest of society in admitting that climate change is a problem and that we need to act now,” Brune says. “We have seen universities, cities, and states take action. The private sector is moving towards clean energy with increasing speed. The executive branch has taken action. Congress has been the biggest missing piece.”
If Democrats in Congress are serious about moving the needle, eliminating the filibuster would be a good first step. “Ending the tireless gridlock would allow Democrats to seize the economic argument from Republicans ahead of the midterm elections while protecting vulnerable communities from wildfires, hurricanes, and toxic pollution,” Alexandra Rojas, executive director of Justice Democrats, said in a statement responding to Biden’s executive actions on Wednesday.
Congress aside, Biden’s early approach toward the climate crisis is a monumental step forward in positioning the issue at the forefront of the federal government’s decision-making. “Our plans are ambitious but, we are America,” he said on Wednesday. “We’re bold. We’re unwavering in our pursuit of jobs and innovations, science, and discovery. We can do this, we must do this, and we will do this.”