On his first day in office, President Joe Biden will sign a broad executive order mandating that the United States rejoin the Paris climate agreement and restore greenhouse gas limits that Donald Trump has weakened. Gina McCarthy, Biden’s national climate adviser, told reporters Tuesday, “We know rejoining [Paris] won’t be enough, but along with strong domestic action, which this executive order kicks off, it is going to be an important step for the United States to regain and strengthen its leadership opportunities.” Formal rejoining will take 30 days, which starts with a letter today to the United Nations requesting that the U.S. be allowed to reenter the agreement that was designed to reduce emissions and the impacts of the global climate crisis.
Biden will also launch a review of the Trump regime’s rollback of environmental protections. According to a description of the executive order provided by the Biden transition team to ClimateWire, the review will scrutinize “federal regulations and other executive actions taken during the last four years that were harmful to public health, damaging to the environment, unsupported by the best available science, or otherwise not in the national interest.”
In a move resulting from more than a decade of fierce and persistent activism by environmentalists and Indigenous peoples of the United States and Canada, Biden is rescinding the permit for finishing the Keystone XL pipeline, which carries petroleum extracted from tar sands in Canada to oil refineries in Illinois and Texas. The Obama administration ultimately rejected the pipeline, but Trump restored it.
McCarthy said, “Climate change is a crisis, and the Keystone pipeline and its construction was not consistent with addressing the climate crisis to the depth and scope that we are planning to address it. Whatever limited benefit that Keystone was projected to provide now has to be obviously reconsidered with the economy of today.”
“As we celebrate this long delayed victory of people power over the fossil fuel industry, it is important to be clear that truly moving the climate needle forward will require following through on the logic of climate science and Indigenous land rights that makes KXL unacceptable,” Rainforest Action Network Executive Director Ginger Cassady said in a statement.
“A huge victory for Lakota and Indigenous front liners and Water Protectors. None of this would have been possible without their sacrifices,” Nick Estes, a citizen of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe and an assistant professor of American studies at the University of New Mexico, tweeted.
Among other things, the review will look at Trump’s moves to make environmental rules more polluter-friendly when it comes to endangered species protections, forest management, oil and gas emissions standards, and pollution control standards.
The reviewers will check out Trump’s removal of protections for national monuments from mining and other development. These include Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante, and Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine national monuments. Many environmental advocates have proposed that Biden restore the original boundaries established by President Obama in the first two of those monuments that were drastically cut by Trump. However, that may be delayed until the outcome of litigation challenging the authority of a president to shrink the acreage of a monument set by a previous president.
The new administration will also restore the social cost of a carbon schedule requiring federal agencies to gauge the full costs of greenhouse gas emissions, “including climate risk, environmental justice and intergenerational equity.”
Also on the review roster is a temporary moratorium on all oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, tougher oil and gas methane regulations, new energy efficiency standards for appliances, and the strengthening of vehicle emissions standards weakened by Trump.
An example of the kind of Trump-era regulations Biden likely will deep-six is a rule finalized just a week ago. This one could keep future administrations from requiring that gas-fired water heaters, furnaces, and boilers be more efficient. Currently, many of these appliances vent large amounts of heat. Others use condensing technology to capture heat and prevent waste. The Department of Energy (DOE) acceded to industry groups that petitioned asking the department to create two classes, one for condensing models and one without. This hamstrings DOE’s authority to require condensing equipment in all future models of these appliances. But it’s a rule that likely will soon be headed for the rubbish bin.