Jan 20, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Biden's plan to upend Trump's environmental legacy

Photo illustration of Joe Biden holding up a wind turbine in his fist.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden will on Wednesday order a government-wide review of over 100 Trump-era policies and direct agencies to prepare a suite of emissions and energy efficiency rules.

Why it matters: New information from transition officials offers the full scope of Biden's imminent, inauguration-day burst of environmental and energy policy moves.

  • They'll begin what will be a years-long, politically and legally fraught process to both reverse Trump's policies and implement Biden's own agenda.

What's new, per Biden's team: An executive order coming Wednesday will include:

  • Ordering "all" departments and agencies to "take appropriate action" against all Trump-era rules and policies that Biden officials deem harmful to public health or the environment.
  • Telling agencies to begin weighing tougher methane emissions rules, vehicle CO2 emissions and mileage standards, and appliance and building efficiency standards.
  • Reviving an interagency working group on the "social cost" of greenhouse gas emissions and direct issuance of an "interim" cost. (The social cost is a metric that regulators use to assess the monetary impact of emissions increases.)
  • Reviewing Trump-era decisions that reduced the size of protected areas including Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments.
  • Biden's orders also direct agencies to review and revise policies that are "counter to his commitment to environmental justice," a transition summary notes, referring to the greater pollution burdens often faced by the poor and communities of color.

Catch up quick: These steps come on top of previously reported inauguration day plans to rejoin the Paris climate deal and yank the Keystone XL pipeline permit.

How it works: Biden officials released a separate list of over 100 Trump-era policies that the incoming administration plans to review and upend, including...

  • EPA decisions on fine particulate and ozone pollution, the scope of the Clean Water Act, carbon emissions from power plants and more.
  • Energy Department efficiency standards and policies for buildings, dishwashers, clothes washers and dryers, electric motors and more.
  • Interior Department rules in areas like migratory bird protections and offshore drilling safety, to name a couple.

What we don't know: Biden's exact strategy for thwarting development in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which was opened to oil-and-gas leasing under a GOP-crafted law in 2017.

The imminent order will place a "temporary moratorium" on leasing activities, per the summary from the transition team.

Reality check: Much of this simply begins long administrative processes.

As we pointed out Tuesday, some executive orders and directives have instant impacts. But often they're akin to firing a starting gun that directs agencies to begin what's a time-consuming, often litigated bureaucratic process to make real and lasting policy changes.

The intrigue: Other parts of the administration's climate plans are emerging. Janet Yellen, the nominee for Treasury secretary, told a Senate panel she would appoint a senior-level Treasury official to oversee efforts related to climate change.

  • She noted the need for a focus on climate change's risks to the financial system.


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