Biden continues leadership on confronting climate crisis and nature loss, prioritizing racial equity

President Biden

President Biden

Gage Skidmore

Executive orders scrutinize Trump attacks, chart new path forward

Editor’s note: We are updating this blog as President Biden issues new executive orders that target the climate crisis, equity and land protection. Last update: 01/27/2021

President Biden and Vice President Harris have just moved into the White House, but with no time to waste, they’re already taking monumental action to curb the climate crisis and recalibrate the management of our shared public lands toward the benefit of all people.

They’ve issued a number of executive orders and other directives, including rejoining the Paris Agreement, prioritizing racial equity across government, and reviewing more than 100 of Trump’s damaging environmental rollbacks. Most recently, on Jan. 27, President Biden added a major order setting a goal of protecting 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters by 2030, halting new oil and gas leasing on public lands and prioritizing equity and environmental justice in federal agencies.  

While these actions will take effect over time, they set a course for the nation to tackle climate change and prioritize the health of our communities before the profits of polluters. 

We’re happy to say that many of these solutions take crucial steps toward reimagining our public lands and waters as part of the climate solution, rather than the problem.

Highlights from President Biden’s early executive orders and other actions:

1. Setting a goal of protecting 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters

President Biden issued an executive order establishing a goal of protecting 30% of our lands and waters by 2030 and directing a federal interagency action plan to meet that goal. The “30 x 30” movement is a response to worldwide loss of wild nature and the need for protected, interconnected landscapes to allow adaptation to the climate crisis.  

2. Halting oil and gas leasing on public lands

President Biden declared a moratorium on new oil and gas leasing on public lands. The burning of fossil fuels extracted from public lands accounts for close to one-quarter of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and interrupting is a crucial step toward making public lands a Net Zero source of emissions. 

3. Prioritizing environmental justice

One of President Biden's executive orders featured a directive centered on environmental justice. Among other things, it will form several federal bodies devoted to environmental justice, including a White House interagency council, and set a goal of improving conditions in communities in color, which bear disproportionate burden from pollution and other environmental threats. 

4. Reviewing more than 100 of Trump’s environmental rollbacks

President Biden is directing agencies to review (and, as appropriate, reverse) Trump’s damaging actions on the environment, including reviewing the boundaries of national monuments gutted by Trump. These actions have weakened pollution standards, fueled climate change and encouraged fossil fuel and other types of development on irreplaceable public lands and waters.

5. Re-joining the Paris Climate Agreement

President Biden issued an executive order that officially states the intent to rejoin the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, a process that will take 30 days. The U.S. officially left the agreement one day after the 2016 election, part of the Trump doctrine of disengagement and abdication of global leadership.

6. Freezing oil and gas development in the Arctic Refuge

Biden is temporarily freezing all oil and gas leasing activities in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and ordering a new analysis of potential environmental impacts reviewing whether last-gasp leases issued by the Trump administration were lawful. The lease sale held in the last days of the Trump administration would open up the land for drilling, threaten wildlife and trample on the human rights of Indigenous peoples.

7. Restoring Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante

President Biden says he will review the Trump administration's protective rollbacks and management changes made to Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah. Back in 2017, Trump unlawfully gutted those monuments, reducing their area by about 85 percent and 50 percent, respectively. The cuts imperiled archaeological and cultural sites significant to the Navajo, Hopi, Ute Mountain Ute, Zuni and Ute Indian Tribe peoples; compromised important fossil beds; and threatened wildlife habitat.

8. Reviewing threat to the Tongass National Forest

President Biden has requested a review of the Trump rulemaking process that excluded the Tongass National Forest in Alaska from the Roadless Rule. Trump’s action would open the wildest parts of the Tongass to logging and development, compromising the landscape’s crucial ability to absorb climate-warming emissions.

9. Ensuring racial equity

President Biden issued an executive order directing agencies to ensure they are prioritizing racial equity in their work. This action signals a much-needed shift to incorporate racial and environmental justice across government and in the fight against climate change.

10. Stopping the border wall construction

The new president has signed an executive order to immediately stop the construction of the US-Mexico border wall. The border wall construction scars protected public lands, damages sensitive ecosystems, threatens wildlife, excludes local community input, and fragments Native cultures in the border region.

11. Restoring rules that limit methane pollution

President Biden ordered a review of Trump’s actions that weakened rules requiring gas producers to take steps to reduce methane leaks and other pollution. Methane is a far more potent heat-trapping greenhouse gas and climate change-contributor than carbon dioxide, and a significant amount is vented, flared or accidentally leaked from natural gas production sites.

12. Canceling the Keystone XL pipeline

As promised, President Biden is rescinding a permit that would allow the Keystone XL pipeline to move forward, driving a stake through the heart of a project long seen as a major link in the fossil-fuel chain that drives climate change. Among Trump’s first acts in office was reviving Keystone XL. 

13. Reviewing rollbacks to protected area in the Atlantic Ocean

President Biden says he will review Trump’s rollbacks of protections for Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monument, off the coast of New England. During his presidential term, Trump claimed monument designation in the area was bad for fishing, but catch and revenue dataundercut that claim (populations of some species have actually increased).

14. Restoring wetland and waterway protection

President Biden is ordering a review of the Trump administration’s rule that limits Clean Water Act protection to seas, lakes and other large bodies of water (so-called “traditional navigable waters”). Notably, the Trump measure would remove federal protection from 51 percent of wetlands, which play a key role as flood, storm and pollution buffers.

15. Restoring protections to the Bering Sea and Arctic Ocean

President Biden reinstated important Obama-era protections that prevent new offshore oil and gas drilling in the majority of the Arctic Ocean and the Bering Sea and established the Northern Bering Sea Climate Resilience Area. The Trump administration yanked the protections in 2017, despite the tremendous risk drilling poses to sensitive Arctic marine ecosystems. Arctic waters support a delicate web of life that could be devastated by drilling given there is no proven technology for cleaning spills from rough, icy waters and the reality that oil breaks down slowly in frigid waters. Production of oil from Arctic waters would also contribute to more climate change emissions, so Biden’s order also helps get the nation back on track with climate emissions reduction goals.

There’s more to come

Jamie Williams, president of The Wilderness Society, is hopeful for the days ahead. “Today we are feeling the first rays of hope after four dark years where racial violence and injustice, destruction of our environment and disdain for climate science became standard operating procedure for a government that was supposed to represent us all. The Biden administration’s order to immediately begin tackling the climate crisis opens tremendous opportunity for communities across the country to come together and rebuild around this shared national goal.”

The new White House has signaled that there are additional executive actions on the horizon to combat the climate crisis. With climate champions being appointed for federal agencies—like Interior Secretary nominee Rep. Deb Haaland—and a new Congress, there’s a tremendous opportunity for swift climate action at all levels of government.

In subsequent actions, we’re calling on the Biden-Harris administration to realize the full promise and potential public lands can offer to fight climate change. Our shared lands and waters naturally absorb climate-changing emissions, support the responsible production of renewable energy and provide a natural infrastructure to buffer communities and wildlife against the most severe effects of a changing climate.

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