A new beginning for climate action

When President Joe Biden was sworn into office last month amid a masked and eerily quiet Washington D.C., I wasn’t expecting immediate, far-reaching action on climate. I had become so accustomed to the executive branch ignoring the existential threat of a warming planet that I forgot what was possible at the federal level. President Biden reminded me.

Simon Horowitz

When President Joe Biden was sworn into office last month amid a masked and eerily quiet Washington D.C., I wasn’t expecting immediate, far-reaching action on climate. I had become so accustomed to the executive branch ignoring the existential threat of a warming planet that I forgot what was possible at the federal level. President Biden reminded me.

Within hours of Biden taking his oath, the U.S. was back in the Paris Agreement, the international climate action accord aimed at limiting global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius and preferably at 1.5 degrees. 

That same day, our new president signed an executive order that halted construction of the environmentally destructive Keystone XL pipeline and launched a review of various Trump era environmental rollbacks. The Biden administration is now considering stronger standards for vehicle tailpipe pollution, more stringent regulation of methane emissions from the oil and gas sector, re-upping building energy efficiency standards, and more.   

A week after his inauguration, the president doubled-down on his initial climate directives by dubbing Jan. 27 “climate day.” With it came a package of executive actions that address the climate crisis and seek to steer the U.S. to a global warming pollution-free electricity sector by 2035 and a net-zero emission country by 2050.

First, Biden established climate action as a national security priority, formally placing global warming at the forefront of both domestic and foregin policy moving forward. The order also created the first White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy, a West Wing division tasked with implementing the administration’s climate plan. Additionally, the president formed the National Climate Taskforce, which brings together leaders from 21 federal agencies to design a coordinated, government-wide plan for mitigating climate change. 

Biden took immediate action to cut emissions by halting any new oil and gas drilling leases on federal land. The order also announced “a rigorous review of all federal land fossil fuel development,” and a goal of doubling offshore wind production by 2030. All of this is part of a larger mission to curb oil and gas extraction. 

The order outlined the administration’s plans to assess its own footprint and use its purchasing power to advance eco-friendly solutions. For example, President Biden directed all federal agencies to replace gasoline powered vehicles with zero emission electric vehicles (EVs). Considering that the national government’s vehicle inventory totals more than 600,000, a switch to electric will result in substantial emission reductions. 

Yet, this initiative is especially significant for other reasons. Pushing toward a federal fleet that’s 100 percent electric serves as an incentive for automakers to ramp up EV development and production. In fact, a day after the announcement, the largest automobile producer in the United States, General Motors, released their plan to sell only electric vehicles by 2035. This is right in line with the goals of Environment America’s Destination: Zero Carbon campaign

In a broader sense, the shift should play a pivotal role in electric vehicles’ public perception. It shows Americans that EVs are not just the future of transportation; they’re here right now. The more EVs we see on the road, and the more that federal employees drive them, the quicker the transportation revolution comes. 

The order also aims to protect our public lands by committing the U.S. to conserving at least 30 percent of our land and oceans by 2030. Meeting this goal would preserve our ecosystems and wildlife and enable more carbon sequestration. 

This winter, Environment America’s ocean team led a federal lobbying effort urging U.S. senators and representatives to support a “30 by 30” resolution. With that in mind, Biden’s announcement was a cause for celebration and a clear signal that conservation advocates have an ally in the White House. 

Overall, this is the federal leadership and action that we’ve been calling for.

 In December, Environment America and U.S. PIRG released a report called First Things to Fix, which outlined environmental actions that President Biden should prioritize. Already, the new administration has pushed ahead with a number of these recommendations. 

On a personal level, this is such a remarkable difference from my experience with the previous administration.

During one of my first days as an intern for Environment America last year, I testified before the Environmental Protection Agency and Office of Management and Budget, urging the agencies to maintain the Clean Car standards. Alongside Environment America’s Global Warming Solutions Director Andrea McGimsey, I shared the sickening real world impacts my friends and family have felt from a warming planet that will only get hotter with millions of dirty cars on the road. Despite our efforts, the Trump administration finalized the weaker vehicle emission standards, which, if kept, could add an estimated 900 million metric tons of global warming pollution into our atmosphere. 

Environment America’s legal team has also worked diligently on cleaning up our transportation sector. We joined with others in launching a lawsuit against the Trump administration for refusing to allow states to set their own, stronger fuel emissions standards. 

In addition, we fought the administration’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, and supported local actions taken by states and municipalities to fill the void left by the administration’s departure. 

The bottom line is we consistently and constantly spoke out against the long list of the last regime’s rule changes and executive actions that even today continue to threaten our planet. Beyond those mentioned, we also did everything from writing op-eds and letters to the editors to hosting climate town halls with House leadership

We at Environment America are thrilled by the new era that is upon us. Yet, our role as advocates is more critical than ever. We must continue to hold decision makers accountable and call for the best possible solutions to our planetary crisis. So take a second to smile, celebrate and allow yourself to breathe a sigh of relief that our federal government does in fact care about the Earth.Then get ready to fight, push and work for the action that is necessary to halt global warming.


Photocredit: NOAA via Unsplash


Simon Horowitz

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