Biden seeks to undo Trump's environmental damage in first weeks in office

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The president-elect already has plans to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline on his first day.

President-elect Joe Biden has ambitious goals to quickly reverse his predecessor Donald Trump's harmful policies on the environment, once he's inaugurated on Jan. 20.

It won't be easy. As climate change activists like Jared Leopold, who founded Evergreen Action, have noted, "Taking over the president from Donald Trump is like taking over the lease from a frat house: The cleanup task list is staggering."

But Biden, who promised last summer to "reverse Trump’s rollbacks of 100 public health and environmental rules," seems largely unbothered by the job at hand.

Over the weekend, Biden indicated he planned to use executive action his first day in office to rescind TC Energy's Keystone XL pipeline permit, sources confirmed to CBC and Politico. Trump approved the pipeline's procession on his third  day in office, the Washington Post noted this week.

Speaking to Politico, Jane Kleeb, founder of the grassroots advocacy group Bold Nebraska, praised Biden for "showing courage and empathy to the farmers, ranchers and tribal nations who have dealt with an ongoing threat that disrupted their lives for over a decade."

In a Saturday memo, Biden's incoming chief of staff Ron Klain sent a memo detailing additional actions for the first 10 days of the administration, one of which includes re-joining the Paris climate agreement. Trump withdrew the United States from that international accord, which aims to limit the rise in global average temperature by targeting greenhouse gas emissions, in 2019; the withdrawal formally went into effect in November last year.

"The president-elect will sign additional executive actions to address the climate crisis with the urgency the science demands and ensure that science guides the administration's decision making," Klain said, naming climate change an "existential threat" on par with the COVID-19 pandemic, failing economy, and systemic racism.

Klain noted that the "list is not comprehensive" and that "more items and more details will be forthcoming in the days ahead."

"Of course, these actions are just the start of our work. Much more will need to be done," he said.

Biden's 2020 campaign website details a list of "Day One Unprecedented Executive Actions to Drive Historic Progress," which could shed light on the climate-related orders to come.

"On day one, Biden will use the full authority of the executive branch to make progress and significantly reduce emissions. Biden recognizes we must go further, faster and more aggressively than ever before," a page titled "The Biden Plan for a Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice" reads.

Biden also states that he will require oil and gas operations to adhere to "aggressive methane pollution limits." He cites the use of the federal government procurement system, "which spends $500 billion every year," to achieve "100% clean energy and zero-emission vehicles."

The president-elect also notes that he will "reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation — the fastest growing source of U.S. climate pollution — by preserving and implementing the existing Clean Air Act, and developing rigorous new fuel economy standards."

Other efforts listed on the site include conserving 30% of America's lands and waters by 2030, implementing new, aggressive appliance and building efficiency standards, and requiring public companies to reveal their operations' climate risks.

In a reversal from his predecessor, Biden would "permanently [protect] the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other areas impacted by President Trump's attack on federal lands and waters, establishing national parks and monuments that reflect America’s natural heritage, banning new oil and gas permitting on public lands and waters, modifying royalties to account for climate costs."

Michael Burger, who leads Columbia University's Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, weighed in on Biden's potential swift reversal of Trump's environmental executive orders, comparing it to Trump's roll-back of former President Barack Obama's sweeping Clean Power Plan in 2017.

"Revocation of executive orders can be done immediately," Burger told the New York Times. "That's a big deal because the executive orders give direction to administrative agencies about how to exercise their discretion and what the priorities are for the administration."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.