As Joe Biden and Kamala Harris prepare to take office on Wednesday, they face many challenges. In late December, Biden named four challenges as primary: COVID-19, the economy, racial justice, and the climate emergency.
But how does Biden intend to convert rhetoric into policy? Writing in USA Today, Dinah Voyles Pulver lifts up some of the highlights of Biden’s stated environmental goals, which include “carbon-free electricity by 2035, more wind and solar to get the nation to net-zero emissions and 100% clean energy by 2050. He also wants to upgrade millions of buildings and homes to be more energy efficient, plug abandoned oil and gas wells, reclaim mines and make environmental justice a key consideration.”
A set of eight specific environmental goals that Biden’s team agreed to back in July along with supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is summarized here.
One of Biden’s reported first steps will be to remove permits for the Keystone XL pipeline; the pipeline project has been roundly opposed by environments and American Indian nations for a decade. Another among the president-elect’s “day one” acts will be an executive order for the US to rejoin the Paris Agreement.
Over time, Biden’s actions will be guided by his climate team, which is set to include Gina McCarthy as head of a new White House Office of Climate Policy, Representative Deb Haaland of New Mexico at Interior; Jennifer Granholm, the former governor of Michigan at Energy; Michael Regan, North Carolina’s top environmental regulator, at the US Environmental Protection Agency; and Brenda Mallory as Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality. McCarthy’s deputy will be Ali Zaidi, currently deputy secretary for energy and environment for the state of New York. Former Secretary of State John Kerry will serve as an international presidential envoy on climate change.
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In pursuing more environmentally and climate-friendly policies, there is a lot of cleanup work to do. As noted in NPQ last week, the administration of Donald Trump continued to weaken environmental protections through its last days. Some of these last-minute changes may be easier to reverse than others.
The $1.4-trillion federal budget bill, signed in December, alongside the $900 billion coronavirus relief bill, demonstrates modest support among Republicans for some pro-environment measures. Measures approved included a 30 percent investment tax credit for offshore wind through 2025, a $75 million fund to remediate plastic waste in the ocean, $1.7 billion to help low-income families add renewable energy sources to their homes, and support for a US Department of Energy program for electric school buses. It also empowers the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to launch a 15-year phaseout of hydrofluorocarbons. Those compounds, used in air conditioners and refrigerators, are highly potent greenhouse gasses.
Other areas where Senate Republicans have indicated support for greater environmental regulation include increasing carbon capture through the agriculture sector—with Mike Braun (R-IN) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) signing on as cosponsors of legislation last session. Similarly, Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) was a cosponsor in the last Congress of a measure to protect and restore ocean ecosystems.
Meanwhile, at the community level, environmental justice leaders and advocates who have spent decades fighting against the siting of dumping grounds in low-income communities and those of color are pushing the incoming Biden-Harris administration to reverse Trump rollbacks.
Inside Climate News asked environmental justice leaders what the new president’s administration should do. Ramón Cruz, president of the Sierra Club, emphasized that, “Addressing systemic issues like racism and access to healthcare are also environmental issues.” Nicole Horseherder, co-founder of environmental action group Tó Nizhóní Aní and a member of the Navajo Nation, emphasizes that she knows her community will have to continue to push hard to achieve favorable results. As she tells Inside Climate News, “It’s up to us to be really smart and to be really specific and to be really clear about what needs to happen.”—Marian Conway