Executive Orders Demonstrate an Aggressive Environmental Agenda

President Biden’s January 27th round of executive orders serves as a window on his administration’s plan to use the broad umbrella of environmental policy to promote multiple administration initiatives.  Not surprisingly, much of the President’s focus is on climate change, including actions such as rejoining the Paris Accord, understanding how climate issues affect national security, shifting the federal transportation fleet to all-electric vehicles, and allocating more resources across the federal government to galvanize the search for climate change solutions.  The administration also plans to leverage the buying power of the federal government to bolster other traditional Democratic policy goals.  For example, directing the purchase of carbon-neutral vehicles or other products also serves the goal of creating and sustaining union jobs.  The administration also plans to pause the leasing of federal and offshore lands for oil and gas exploration, end federal subsidies for fossil fuels, and create an inter-agency task force to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from existing and abandoned fossil fuel infrastructure and turn these brownfields into “economic opportunity hubs.”

All of these goals run in conjunction with the Biden administration’s focus on environmental justice.  The President intends to create a White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council and a White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council to prioritize environmental justice and address current and historical injustices.  As a part of this initiative, the administration seeks to deliver 40% of the economic benefits created by these climate change initiatives to disadvantaged communities.  The advisory councils will be tasked with developing a screening tool to identify specific communities and a scorecard to track the progress being made in reaching these goals.

Some highlights of the Administration’s January 27, 2021 Executive Orders regarding environmental issues include:

Climate Change.  Several of the Orders are centered on addressing climate change and include major actions such as rejoining the Paris Accord and building upon the Accord’s objective to promote the necessity of significant short-term global emissions reductions and net-zero global emissions by mid-century; creation of the White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy, led by a National Climate Advisor and Deputy; and establishment of a National Climate Task Force composed of leaders from 21 federal agencies and departments.  In addition, climate issues are to be an essential element of US foreign policy and national security policy, including the requirement that the Director of National Intelligence prepare an estimate on the national security implications of climate change.

Leveraging the Federal Government’s Footprint to Promote Environmental Initiatives.  The administration will lead by example, taking advantage of its vast buying power and influence to promote its climate change initiatives, all while keeping focused on improving the economy.  For example, the Executive Orders require the procurement of carbon-free electricity and zero-emission vehicles to create good-paying union jobs and stimulate clean energy industries.  Importantly, all purchases must be consistent with the “Buy American” Executive Order, which includes directions to enforce the prevailing wage and guidelines.  Among other things, President Biden seeks to ensure that any jobs created with funds to address climate change are “good jobs” with the opportunity to join a union.  Other actions include directing each federal agency to develop a plan to increase the resilience of its facilities and operations to climate change impacts, eliminating fossil-fuel subsidies and identifying new opportunities for clean energy technologies and infrastructure, and catalyzing the creation of jobs in construction, manufacturing, engineering, and trades to accelerate infrastructure projects. 

Environmental Justice.  President Biden’s Executive Orders also are focused on the need for equity and addressing the disparate historical impacts of environmental decision-making.  Among other things, the Executive Orders create a White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council and White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council to prioritize environmental justice, address current and historical injustices, and demand strengthening Environmental Justice offices at the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services.  In addition, the Executive Orders announced a new initiative known as “Justice 40,” designed to deliver 40% of overall benefits of relevant federal investment to disadvantaged communities and develop an Environmental Justice Scorecard to track progress and an Environmental Justice Screening Tool to identify disadvantaged communities 

In a very short period of time we have already seen the Biden administration putting into action its promise to make climate change and environmental justice central elements of its agenda. This pace will likely continue for the duration of President Biden’s time in office.

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