WASHINGTON — President Biden on Wednesday will sign a package of executive orders elevating climate change at every level of the federal government, a move that the administration says will put the United States on the path to reducing its share of emissions that are warming the planet.
Taking the first significant steps toward one of Mr. Biden’s most controversial campaign promises, the orders will direct the secretary of the Interior Department “to pause on entering into new oil and natural gas leases on public lands and offshore waters to the extent possible” while beginning a “rigorous review” of all existing fossil fuel leases and permitting practices, according to a fact sheet provided by the White House.
Federal agencies also will be ordered to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies “and identify new opportunities to spur innovation.” Overhauling the tax breaks — worth billions of dollars to the oil, coal and gas industries — to help pay for Mr. Biden’s $2 trillion climate change plan was also a major campaign promise. Both plans are expected to face strong opposition in Congress.
Wednesday’s executive orders also set broad new foreign policy goals.
They will formalize the role of former Secretary of State John Kerry as Mr. Biden’s new international envoy on climate change, with a seat on the National Security Council. And the orders will specify that climate change, for the first time, will be a core part of all foreign policy and national security decisions.
The United States has struggled to meet its promises under the Paris Agreement, the agreement among nations to fight climate change; under those terms the nation had pledged to slash emissions up to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. Nevertheless, Mr. Biden’s orders will kick off a process to develop new and more ambitious targets that will be announced in advance of a major United Nations summit at the end of the year.
“The United States will exercise its leadership to promote a significant increase in global ambition,” the White House said in a statement on Wednesday. Both significant short-term and longer-term emissions goals, like achieving net-zero global emissions by 2050, “are required to avoid setting the world on a dangerous, potentially catastrophic, climate trajectory,” it said.
Oil and gas industry leaders signaled that many of Mr. Biden’s plans would face steep opposition.
“Penalizing the oil and gas industry kills good-paying American jobs, hurts our already struggling economy, makes our country more reliant on foreign energy sources, and impacts those who rely on affordable and reliable energy,” Anne Bradbury, president of the American Exploration and Production Council, a trade group that represents oil and gas producers, said in a statement.
Erik Milito, president of the National Ocean Industries Association, a trade group that represents offshore energy companies, hinted at legal challenges ahead, saying in a statement that the pause on oil and gas leasing in particular “is contrary to law and puts America on a path toward increased imports from foreign nations that have been characterized as pollution havens.”
Environmental groups called the changes long overdue, particularly after four years in which the Trump administration mocked climate science and eliminated virtually every tool the government had to tackle rising emissions.
“This is the single biggest day for climate action in more than a decade,” said Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters.
The New Washington
In his campaign, Mr. Biden set out goals of eliminating fossil fuel emissions from the electricity sector by 2035, protecting 30 percent of lands and oceans by 2030, and putting the United States on a path toward net-zero emissions — that is, eliminating as much carbon pollution as the country puts into the atmosphere — before 2050.
His plan calls for spending $2 trillion over four years to meet that goal, a tall order in a narrowly divided Congress.
The raft of executive orders focuses on three main themes: weaving climate change into every facet of the government, job creation, and environmental justice.
In addition to formalizing a new White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy led by Gina McCarthy, who previously served as Environmental Protection Agency administrator under former President Barack Obama, Mr. Biden also intends to establish a National Climate Task Force that will include leaders from 21 federal agencies. It also creates a new White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council and a separate advisory council to prioritize an understanding of the damage pollution does to poor and minority communities.
Mr. Biden also will issue a memorandum on scientific integrity, instructing agencies to make what the White House called “evidence-based decisions guided by the best available science and data.” Every agency, not just those that do scientific research, must appoint “scientific integrity” officials.
The steps to ensure scientific integrity follow efforts by former President Donald J. Trump’s administration to thwart climate science.
In one of the most prominent examples, senior Trump officials pressured leaders at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 2019 to repudiate their own scientists after a weather station in Birmingham, Ala., contradicted Mr. Trump’s incorrect statement that Hurricane Dorian would strike the state.
Christopher Flavelle contributed reporting.
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