How Biden Can Immediately Act on Climate

With the prospects for early or easy legislative action on climate and environmental problems heavily dampened by enduring anti-environmental control of the North Carolina General Assembly and at best narrow control of the U.S. Senate, we look to the new Joe Biden Administration for positive executive action. What might they do?

As both the Obama and Trump administrations proved, much can be accomplished by executive order — and if the rules are followed, by administrative agency action. President Biden will want to move fast to take advantage of his full range of options.

To start, Biden campaigned on treating climate change as the “existential threat” that it is. Here’s one list of the key actions he can take quickly:

  • Rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement. Biden is committed to this action. If nothing else, this will serve as a powerful symbol of the new administration’s commitment to international cooperation in combating the global crisis, stiffen the resolve of key nations to act, and provide leverage to push more reluctant leaders to come along.
  • Convene an international meeting of representatives from major industrial nations. Biden has signaled that he will call for such an assembly to press for more cuts to greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Reverse energy rollbacks. We expect Biden to reverse a number of Trump executive orders on energy, including drilling on public lands and offshore.
  • Include clean energy funding in coronavirus relief and economic stimulus legislation. Even without the Senate, having a firm and reliable negotiating partner in the White House will wield great influence in these negotiations. Congressional leaders will be relieved to deal with someone whose positions don’t shift hour to hour, depending on what television talking heads say that day.
  • Sign new executive orders cutting emissions. Agencies will be instructed to get moving to restore auto efficiency standards, limit methane releases from energy production, and ramp up energy efficiency in buildings and elsewhere.

Some of those items are already explicitly included in the Biden-Harris commitments laid out during their campaign. Other items are specifically cited on the new presidential transition website, which cites priority actions in four specific areas, one of which is climate change. The sub-areas of action include boosting the domestic electric auto industry and supporting infrastructure, expanding public transit (including light rail, bus transit, and bike and pedestrian options), and addressing environmental justice issues.

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