Yesterday, President Biden signed an Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad. It’s even more comprehensive than last week’s order. Indeed, my main reaction to the order isn’t to any of the specific provisions. It’s one simple realization – he really means it. And I think that’s the point. There is no question at this point that President Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr. really believes that climate change is an existential crisis. When presidents near the end of their terms, commentators often talk about a president’s efforts to define their legacy. Eight days into President Biden’s term, it’s clear that he is going to do everything possible to make the fight against climate change at least one very big part of his legacy.
I also want to note the care and thought that went into this EO. There really is no substitute for finding the right people and letting them use their intelligence, experience, skills, and judgment. And President Biden has brought on a climate team with intelligence, experience, skills, and judgment and he’s letting them do their thing.
Indeed, one point about the substance of the order flows directly from my views about the thoughtful nature of the order. This really is a structural approach to climate change. It embeds climate change throughout the functioning of the federal government.
I’ll make just two further points about specifics in the EO. First, as a follow-up to the concerns I expressed last week about ensuring that the environmental impact review process is able to distinguish between projects that have beneficial impacts on climate from those that don’t, it appears that the President and his team were way ahead of me. Here’s section 213:
The Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget shall take steps, consistent with applicable law, to ensure that Federal infrastructure investment reduces climate pollution, and to require that Federal permitting decisions consider the effects of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. In addition, they shall review, and report to the National Climate Advisor on, siting and permitting processes, including those in progress under the auspices of the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council, and identify steps that can be taken, consistent with applicable law, to accelerate the deployment of clean energy and transmission projects in an environmentally stable manner.
The second point is about politics – and here one can sense President Biden’s direct involvement. He clearly cares about climate. He also clearly understands the delicate political tightrope he’s walking. That’s why the EO contains both far-reaching environmental justice provisions and provisions to address the economic impacts of the Government’s climate efforts on those working in areas dominated by fossil fuels.
On EJ, I’ll note two totally different provisions that help show the breadth given to this issue. First, the Attorney General is directed:
to develop a comprehensive environmental justice enforcement strategy, which shall seek to provide timely remedies for systemic environmental violations and contaminations, and injury to natural resources.
Second, the EO establishes the “Justice40 Initiative”, aimed at attaining “a goal that 40 percent of the overall benefits flow to disadvantaged communities.”
Regarding the fossil fuel economy, an entire section of the EO is devoted this issue. The EO creates an Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization. Its first task is to prepare a report:
describing all mechanisms, consistent with applicable law, to prioritize grantmaking, Federal loan programs, technical assistance, financing, procurement, or other existing programs to support and revitalize the economies of coal and power plant communities.
Do you think that President had Senator Manchin in mind when this section was drafted?
Only time and history will tell us what President Biden’s real legacy will be, but this is a start.