By Connor Dacey, GSA Science Policy Fellow

Since Inauguration Day on 20 January, 2021, the Biden Administration has focused on addressing the climate crisis.  On the first day of his term, President Biden signed an executive order on “Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis.”  This executive order had four primary functions:

  • To direct all executive departments and agencies to review federal regulations and other actions during the Trump Administration “that conflict with important national objectives that work to confront the climate crisis.” These national objectives include, but are not limited to, improving public health and protecting the environment, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and limiting exposure to dangerous chemicals and pesticides.
  • To place a temporary moratorium on all activities of the federal government relating to the implementation of the Coastal Plain Oil and Gas Leasing Program in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
  • To account for the benefits of reducing climate pollution by establishing an Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Greenhouse Gases to provide recommendations regarding the social costs of carbon, nitrous oxide, and methane.
  • To revoke the March 2019 Permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline.  According to the executive order, “leaving the Keystone XL pipeline permit in place would not be consist with the Administration’s economic and climate imperative.”
Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES-13) captured this image of Hurricane Earl, which had category 4 strength, threatening the U.S. East Coast in 2010 - Credit: National Science Foundation
Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES-13) captured this image of Hurricane Earl, which had category 4 strength, threatening the U.S. East Coast in 2010 – Credit: National Science Foundation

On the same day, President Biden also fulfilled his commitment to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement by pledging to accept it on behalf of the United States (U.S.).

One week later on 27 January, President Biden issued a second climate-focused executive order entitled “Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad.”  This executive order was more thorough and expansive than the first executive order on climate change, and was separated into two primary parts. 

The first part of the order revolved around putting the climate crisis at the center of the U.S.’s foreign policy and national security. The order stated that the U.S. will work with other countries to build resilience against the impacts of climate change, host an early Leaders’ Climate Summit aimed at raising climate ambition and making a positive contribution to the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) and beyond, and reconvene the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate.  His order created a new presidentially-appointed position, the Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, to elevate the issue of climate change.  This position is now filled by former Secretary of State John Kerry, representing the first member of the National Security Council to focus exclusively on climate change.  The order also directed the Secretary of the Treasury to ensure that the U.S. is present and engaged in relevant international institutions that are working on the management of climate-related financial risks, while tasking the Secretary of Energy to identify steps through which the U.S. can intensify international collaborations to drive innovation and deployment of clean energy technologies.  Finally, it is required that the Director of National Intelligence prepare a National Intelligence Estimate on the national and economic security impacts of climate change, and the Secretary of Homeland Security to consider the implications of climate change in the Arctic and along the nation’s borders.

The second part of the executive order focused on taking a government-wide approach to the climate crisis.  As part of this goal, a White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy was established, and is now run by National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy.  Additionally, a National Climate Task Force was established to aid in combatting the climate crisis.

The order lays out goals and guidelines for a clean energy future, such as having a carbon pollution-free electricity sector no later than 2035, conserving at least 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters by 2030, and eliminating fossil fuel subsidies from the budget request for fiscal years 2022 and thereafter.  It also requires that agencies make achieving environmental justice part of their missions by developing programs, policies, and activities to address the disproportionately high adverse human health, environmental, climate-related and other cumulative impacts on disadvantaged communities, as well as the accompanying economic challenges of such impacts.  The White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council was established to aid in accomplishing these goals.

On 4 February, President Biden issued an executive order on Rebuilding and Enhancing Programs to Resettle Refugees and Planning for the Impact of Climate Change on Migration. It requires the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs (APNSA), in consultation with other cabinet secretaries, to produce a report on climate change and its impact on migration, “including forced migration, internal displacement, and planned relocation.” This report will discuss “international security implications of climate change, options for protection and resettlement of individuals displaced directly or indirectly from climate change,” and “proposals for how the U.S. should mitigate the negative impacts of climate change.”

On 11 February, the Biden-Harris Administration also launched an American innovation effort to create jobs while addressing climate change. These efforts included offering a new $100 million funding opportunity from the U.S. Department of Energy to “support transformational low-carbon energy technologies.”  It established the Climate Innovation Working Group as part of the National Climate Task Force to “foster affordable, game-changing technologies that can help America achieve the President’s goal of net zero economy-wide emissions by 2050” and protect the American people from the impacts of natural hazards.  The order stated that the group will prioritize programs at “Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other minority-serving institutions” as it coordinates climate innovation across the federal government.

The 117th Congress is also focused on addressing climate change.  On 3 February,  the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held a hearing on “Global Climate Trends and Progress in Addressing Climate Change.”  The House Committee on Energy and Commerce also held a hearing on climate change on 9 February.  Despite political divides, there were instances at both hearings in which representatives on both sides of the political spectrum found consensus.  For example, both Democrats and Republicans expressed interest in decarbonization technologies.  Concern for critical minerals and resources were also expressed by members on both sides of the aisle, a topic that is the focus of a GSA position statement. However, the mechanisms and speed through which the U.S. decarbonizes or transitions to a renewable energy future differed depending on political party, with Democrats praising President Biden and his new administration for the urgency of his response to the climate crisis and Republicans critiquing them for overuse of executive actions.

GSA members are encouraged to read the executive orders and watch the Congressional hearings in their entirety to gain a fuller understanding of where both the executive and legislative branches stand on their view of the climate crisis.