US President Biden pledged early on to use every corner of the federal government to combat climate change with “a greater sense of urgency.” The administration’s environmental goals are at the core of current policy-making, as the President has identified that the environment and US economy are “completely and totally connected.”
Back in 2021, after the January 6 attack on the US Capitol, Joe Biden took the oath of office as President of the United States. He recognized the “maximum threat” of climate change and established a White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy. Of many promises and proposals he made soon after assuming the executive office, the President signed an executive order that made the climate crisis “the center of our national security and foreign policy.” Essential to that core acknowledgement was moving forward on critical actions to address pollution from the power sector.
It seemed such a hopeful start. And then came the pesky business of legislating.
Regulatory Plans Lack Some EPA Deadline Successes
The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) on Wednesday released a semiannual document called the Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions (Agenda) that outlines its latest regulatory plans across all federal agencies in the near and long term. Released by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, the Agenda provides important public notice and transparency about proposed actions within the Executive Branch.
The nearly-issued Agenda included references to several items that the Biden administration had hoped to accomplish but was unable to do so.
- The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will miss its self-imposed March deadline for proposing greenhouse gas emission standards for new and existing power plants. Now to be proposed in April, the new standards can be finalized by June 2024.
- The EPA will not achieve their spring target for finalizing tougher limits on soot, a deadly air pollutant. The rule will be proposed, instead, in late January and scheduled for release by August.
- The final rule regarding the EPA’s authority to curb emissions of mercury and other toxic air pollutants from power plant smokestacks is now scheduled for a March release.
- The Interior Department has postponed finalizing a rule targeting leaks, venting, and flaring of methane from oil and gas operations on public lands by September, rather than next month.
Certainly, we’ve all set deadlines in our own lives that become delayed or even never actualized. These federal rules, however, impact global health, environment, and climate scenarios. Rules that are delayed and subsequently issued toward the end of President Biden’s first term might be overturned by a future Republican-controlled Congress that draws upon the Congressional Review Act — it gives permission to lawmakers to revoke any regulation within 60 legislative days of its finalization by a simple majority vote. Thus, it’s really important that, when the new rules are released, they are able to be legally defensible.
White House spokesperson Abdullah Hasan insisted that President Biden “will keep using all the tools available to him to advance his clean energy agenda, which is already creating good-paying jobs, lowering costs, revitalizing American manufacturing, and putting the United States back on track to reach its climate goals.”
Gina McCarthy, the president’s national climate adviser, noted that significant time and effort are required to restore regulations that were weakened or eliminated under President Donald Trump, “We’ve had to do a lot of getting back to square one, which is frustrating,” she admitted. “We’ve had to roll back the rollbacks.”
A Survey of Biden’s Climate Actions
Disappointments aside, the Administration is advancing nature-based solutions in support of the President’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 50–52% below 2005 levels in 2030, to conserve at least 30% of U.S. lands and waters by 2030, and to increase community resilience to extreme weather and other climate impacts. The new Nature Based Solutions Roadmap will help the Administration seize additional opportunities to contribute to environmental goals.
While the Inflation Reduction Act will put the country on a path toward cutting emissions 40% by the end of the decade, it will take further executive action to make up the difference. Acknowledging that “the act isn’t, by itself, enough to avert climate disaster,” Paul Krugman, a prominent New York Times media columnist, expressed, nonetheless, “this is a very big deal.”
In March 2022, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) proposed rule changes that would require registrants to include certain climate-related disclosures in their registration statements and periodic reports, including information about climate-related risks that are reasonably likely to have a material impact on their business, results of operations, or financial condition, and certain climate-related financial statement metrics in a note to their audited financial statements. The required information about climate-related risks also would include disclosure of a registrant’s greenhouse gas emissions, which have become a commonly used metric to assess a registrant’s exposure to such risks.
In June, 2022, the EPA announced a rule to update the regulatory requirements for water quality certification under Clean Water Act (CWA) Section 401. This proposed rule would strengthen the authority of states, territories, and Tribes to protect their vital water resources while supporting an efficient, predictable, and common-sense certification process, restoring long-held water rights.
And there are a whole bunch more.
In the final months of 2022, the Biden administration announced rules that would phase down hydrocarbons; overturn restrictions on environmental, social, and governance retirement investments; revise regulations controlling lead and copper in drinking water; update the dietary guidelines for a food to be labeled “healthy;” establish energy conservation standards for manufactured homes; overturn a Trump-era rule limiting the protection of certain habitats; generate a rule requiring coal-burning power plants to reduce carbon emissions; set corporate average fuel economy standards for passenger vehicles for model years 2022 through 2025; overturn rollbacks to the National Environmental Protection Act that streamlined environmental assessments; create a rule to restore national forests and direct agencies to study nature-based solutions to mitigate climate change; and more.
Last week, a finalized rule now allows the EPA to regulate and protect hundreds of thousands of small streams, wetlands, and other waterways. The shift reverses a Trump-era modification. It has the potential to supersede what has been nearly a decade of challenges to EPA authority.
Curious about the entirety of the Biden–Harris’ administration’s environmental actions? Check out the Washington Post’s environmental tracker. It indicates that the Biden administration to date has added 59 environmental policies and proposed 54 others, while it has overturned 85 of former president Donald Trump’s environmental policies and targeted 88 others. The tracker is regularly updated to account for each new green initiative across all federal agencies.
(You can also see the entire Agency Rule List, dated Fall, 2022, here.)
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