WASHINGTON, DC, January 28, 2021 (ENS) – “Today is Climate Day at the White House, which means that today is Jobs Day at the White House,” President Joe Biden told reporters Wednesday morning. “We’re talking about American innovation, American products, American labor. And we’re talking about the health of our families and cleaner water, cleaner air, and cleaner communities. We’re talking about national security and America leading the world in a clean energy future.”
Seven days into his presidency, Biden signed executive orders intended to counter U.S. contributions to the Earth’s rising temperature. Calling climate change a “maximum threat,” the President said, “In my view, we’ve already waited too long to deal with this climate crisis and we can’t wait any longer. We see it with our own eyes, we feel it, we know it in our bones, and it’s time to act.”
Climate change is a serious national security threat, the President revealed, saying, “The Defense Department reported that climate change is a direct threat to more than two-thirds of the military’s operational critical installations. Two-thirds!” he stressed.
Biden observed that American attitudes about the climate are changing. “If you notice, the attitude of the American people toward greater impetus on focusing on climate change and doing something about it has increased across the board – Democrat, Republican, independent.”
“More Americans see and feel the devastation in big cities, small towns, coastlines, and in farmlands, in red states and blue states,” he said.
To bring the United States up to speed in dealing with the warming climate, the President signed a multi-part executive order that establishes a different tone from that of the Trump administration, which relied on industry-friendly people to staff natural resources agencies.
The Biden climate order is intended, “to supercharge our administration’s ambitious plan to confront the existential threat of climate change,” the President said.
The order sets a goal of “net-zero global emissions by mid-century ” to avoid the worst of climate change.
It would move the country quickly towards another Biden goal of achieving a 100 percent carbon-pollution-free electric sector by 2035 as a spur to job creation and economic competitiveness, and for the health and environmental benefits. “Already, 84 percent of all new electric capacity planned to come onto the electric grid this is year is clean energy,” Biden said.
The order commits to another goal as well – that of conserving at least 30 percent of U.S. lands and oceans by 2030.
As the burning of coal, oil and gas emits heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, Biden’s order directs federal agencies to “eliminate fossil fuel subsidies” and “identify new opportunities for innovation, commercialization, and deployment of clean energy technologies and infrastructure.”
The order formalizes President Biden’s commitment to make environmental justice a part of the mission of every agency. It directs federal agencies to develop programs, policies, and activities to address the disproportionate health, environmental, economic, and climate impacts on disadvantaged communities.
The order establishes a White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council and a White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council to prioritize environmental justice and ensure a “whole-of-government approach” to addressing current and historical environmental injustices. This includes strengthening environmental justice monitoring and enforcement through new or strengthened offices at the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Justice, and Department of Health and Human Services.
‘There is a Climate Crisis’
The rapid warming of the climate poses a real threat to the United States, Biden said, acknowledging 2020 climate facts. “Last year, wildfires burned more than 5,000 acres in the West … an area roughly the size of the entire state of New Jersey. More intense and powerful hurricanes and tropical storms pummeled states across the Gulf Coast and along the East Coast – I can testify to that, from Delaware,” Biden said. “Historic floods, severe droughts have ravaged the Midwest.”
The year 2020 was one of the three warmest years on record, and rivaled 2016 for the top spot, according to a consolidation of five international datasets by the World Meteorological Organization.
“Many climate and health calamities are colliding all at once,” Biden said. “It’s not just the pandemic that keeps people inside; it’s poor air quality. Multiple studies have shown that air pollution is associated with an increased risk of death from COVID-19.”
“And just like we need a unified national response to COVID-19,” the new President said, “we desperately need a unified national response to the climate crisis – because there is a climate crisis.”
Unpacking the Executive Order on Climate
Called “Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad,” Biden’s executive order contains a broad range of actions.
– The order establishes climate considerations as “an essential element of U.S. foreign policy and national security.”
– It “makes clear that both significant short-term global emission reductions and net-zero global emissions by mid-century – or before – are required to avoid setting the world on a dangerous, potentially catastrophic, climate trajectory.”
– The order reaffirms that the President will host a Leaders’ Climate Summit on Earth Day, April 22, 2021.
– The United States will reconvene the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate started in 2009 in the Obama-Biden Administration, the executive order provides. The Forum is intended to facilitate a candid dialogue among 17 major developed and developing economies and foster joint ventures that increase clean energy supplies and cut greenhouse gas emissions.
– The order also kicks off the process of developing the United States’ nationally determined contribution – the country’s emissions reduction target under the Paris Agreement, which President Biden rejoined on Day One, as well as a climate finance plan.
– The order directs the Director of National Intelligence to prepare a National Intelligence Estimate on the security implications of climate change, and it directs the State Department to prepare a transmittal package to the Senate for the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, which commits the country to gradually reduce the consumption and production of hydrofluorocarbons which damage the planet’s protective ozone layer.
To underscore the administration’s commitment to elevating climate in U.S. foreign policy, President Biden has created a new position, the Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, which will have a seat on the National Security Council. Former Secretary of State John Kerry occupies this position now and made his first speeches as Envoy in several international meetings this week.
Kerry’s job is clearly spelled out in the order, which states that it “will be a U.S. priority to press for enhanced climate ambition and integration of climate considerations across a wide range of international fora.”
– At home, the order establishes the White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy, creating a central office in the White House charged with coordinating and implementing the President’s domestic climate agenda. It is headed by Biden’s National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy, who led the Environmental Protection Agency during the Obama-Biden Administration.
– The order establishes the National Climate Task Force that McCarthy will chair, assembling Cabinet members and leaders from across 21 federal agencies and departments to enable a “whole-of-government” approach to combatting the climate crisis.
– Consistent with the goals of the President’s Build Back Better jobs and economic recovery plan, of which his clean energy jobs plan is a central pillar, the order directs the federal agencies to procure carbon pollution-free electricity and clean, zero-emission vehicles to create good-paying, union jobs and stimulate clean energy industries.
Introducing his climate action in a speech at the White House, President Biden promised to restore the strict fuel efficiency standards rolled back by the Trump administration. “The Biden-Harris administration will not only bring those standards back, we’ll set new, ambitious ones that our workers are ready to meet,” he said.
“When I think of climate change, I think of the answers to it – I think of jobs,” Biden said.
“We see these workers building new buildings, installing 500,000 new electric vehicle charging stations across the country as we modernize our highway systems to adapt to the changes that have already taken place,” he said. “We see American consumers switching to electric vehicles through rebates and incentives, and the residents of our cities and towns breathing cleaner air, and fewer kids living with asthma and dying from it.”
The federal government owns and maintains an enormous fleet of vehicles, and Biden wants to electrify that fleet. “With today’s executive order, combined with the Buy American executive order I signed on Monday, we’re going to harness the purchasing power of the federal government to buy clean, zero-emission vehicles that are made and sourced by union workers right here in America.”
“With everything I just mentioned, this will mean one million new jobs in the American automobile industry,” he promised.
– The order directs the Secretary of the Interior to pause on entering into new oil and natural gas leases on public lands or offshore waters to the extent possible, launch a rigorous review of all existing leasing and permitting practices related to fossil fuel development on public lands and waters, and identify steps that can be taken to double renewable energy production from offshore wind by 2030.
– The order does not restrict energy activities on lands that the United States holds in trust for Tribes. The Secretary of the Interior will continue to consult with Tribes regarding the development and management of renewable and conventional energy resources, in conformance with the U.S. government’s trust responsibilities.
Presidential Memo Formalizes Strong Role of Science
President Biden also signed the Presidential Memorandum on Scientific Integrity and Evidence-Based Policymaking, which directs federal agencies to make evidence-based decisions guided by the best available science and data.
“Scientific and technological information, data, and evidence are central to the development and iterative improvement of sound policies, and to the delivery of effective and equitable programs. Improper political interference in the scientific process, with the work of scientists, and in the communication of scientific facts undermines the welfare of the nation, contributes to systemic inequities and injustices, and violates the public trust,” declared the President in this memo, an attitude that is the direct opposite of his predecessor’s.
The memo charges the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy with the responsibility for ensuring scientific integrity across federal agencies.
Finally, President Biden made it crystal clear that his decisions would be guided by science as he signed an executive order re-establishing the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, PCAST. Co-chaired by the President’s Science Advisor, the PCAST will advise the President on policy that affects science, technology, and innovation, the economy, worker empowerment, education, energy, environment, public health, national and homeland security, and racial equity.
— ENS Staff
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