Jan 19, 2021 - Politics & Policy

The beginning of the beginning for Biden's climate push

Illustration of an hour glass with a melting iceberg in the top, with water filling the bottom
Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Joe Biden's inauguration and the days right after will bring a rat-tat-tat burst of climate policy moves, but keep this in mind amid the splashy pledges: pushing through most of his agenda will be a long, uncertain slog.

Why it matters: Biden's climate plan is far more expansive than anything contemplated under President Obama. But for all the immediate pledges, it will take years to see how far Biden gets.

What's next: Biden will issue a memo Wednesday saying the U.S. is rejoining the Paris climate deal (which is technically a 30-day process).

  • Another inauguration day move, per multiple news reports, will scrap the permit for the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline, a project he pledged to block during the campaign.
  • Look for a bunch of other executive orders and directives on climate and energy this week and through Feb. 1, incoming White House chief of staff Ron Klain said in a weekend memo about the first 10 days.
  • Reuters reports that early moves will include seeking to prevent oil-and-gas development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  

Yes, but: It's true executive orders and memos can achieve some things fast. But often they're akin to firing a starting gun that directs agencies to begin what's a time-consuming bureaucratic process to make real and lasting policy changes.

How it works: Crafting formal regulations on areas like tougher CO2 mandates for the auto sector — just one of the many areas where Biden is planning new rules — is often a yearslong process.

  • Other goals, like lots of new spending on low-carbon energy projects and climate-friendly infrastructure, will take careful negotiations with the narrowly divided Congress.
  • And even returning to the pre-Trump status quo by rejoining Paris is simply a precursor to months and years of diplomacy aimed at a more aggressive global response to climate change.
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