First up, President Biden kept his campaign promise to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement on his first day in office. With that move, the United States joined the 194 other countries that have signed the agreement. While EPIC applauds President Biden’s decision to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, it’s important to remember that this is merely a first step. The Paris Agreement is a pledge to try to reduce a country’s GHG emissions but a pledge without followthrough is worth very little. Biden pledged during his campaign to make a $2 trillion dollar clean energy investment and it’s that kind of action that will actually move us towards a safer future for our planet.
Speaking of which, another early action President Biden has taken on climate change was his federal oil and gas leasing moratorium. On January 27th, President Biden issued an order that mandates a “pause” on new oil and gas leasing on federal lands, both onshore and offshore, “to the extent consistent with applicable law,” while a comprehensive review of oil and gas permitting and leasing is conducted. This action directly led to the cancelation of proposed new offshore oil drilling in Alaska which would have had long lasting environmental consequences. Biden’s moratorium on federal oil and gas leasing is welcome but is by no means a panacea. All pre-existing leases on federal lands will still continue to produce fossil fuels and federal lands only account for a fraction of our nation’s oil and gas production. Two other executive actions taken by President Biden, the cancelling of the Keystone XL Pipeline and the phasing out of some fossil fuel subsidies, are similarly aimed at preventing the United States’ carbon footprint from growing larger. While such actions are necessary if we are going to eventually transition to a clean energy economy and avoid the disastrous effects of climate change, they will not get us there on their own.
Not all of President Biden’s actions have been focused on fossil fuels. Late in the Trump administration, the Forest Service opened up 9.3 million acres of Alaska’s Tongass National Forest to road construction, timber harvests, and mining. On February 1st, the Biden Department of Agriculture (which oversees the Forest Service) released a memorandum ordering that any environmentally destructive activities in roadless areas such as road building, timber harvesting and mining will be subject to special review. The order effectively overturned Trump’s rule and will protect the Tongass National Forest. Along these lines, Biden also set a goal of conserving 30% of the United States’ lands and waters by 2030. That target, sometimes called “30 by 30” by the conservation community, is endorsed by scientists who argue that reaching it is necessary to fight climate change and the extinction crisis.
Like the 30 by 30 conservation goal, many of President Biden’s actions won’t materialize for some time. Biden has also announced the creation of a Civilian Climate Corps that will create jobs and training opportunities designed to conserve and restore public lands and waters, bolster community resilience, increase reforestation, increase carbon sequestration in the agricultural sector, protect biodiversity, improve access to recreation, and address the changing climate. The initiative is based on FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps which is responsible for much of the outdoor recreation infrastructure we all rely on today. The original Civilian Conservation Corps put approximately three million jobless Americans to work during the height of the great depression planting trees, fighting fires, and building trails. The new CCC is envisioned to be a more inclusive and climate focused entity than the original that will tackle environmental justice concerns as well as traditional conservation goals. This new formulation is emblematic of Biden’s pledge to meaningfully consider the needs of both environmental justice communities as well as communities currently dependent on extractive industries while taking steps to address the climate crisis. We here at EPIC believe that this approach is morally necessary and creates the best chance for these programs to succeed.
All in all, it’s safe to say that President Biden is off to a strong start working to protect the environment and climate. There is, of course, a lot more work to do. But, hey, he’s only had 28 days in office.