When Joe Biden officially took office on January 20, 2021, he made it clear that addressing environmental concerns would be core focus of his administration, and he has since followed suit.
On day one, Biden signed executive orders to rejoin the Paris climate agreement – which former president Donald Trump had previously controversially pulled out of – and direct his agencies to reverse a number of former actions of the Trump administration that slashed environmental regulations and emissions standards.
Biden’s work has not stopped there. On Wednesday, January 27, 2021, Biden signed more executive actions relating to the environment, creating a “whole-of-government” approach to combating the climate crisis by ordering federal agencies to purchase electricity that is pollution-free (along with zero emission vehicles) and instructing the U.S. Department of the Interior to pause entering into new oil and natural gas leases on public lands or offshore.
The President’s larger goals – such as getting to 100 percent clean electricity by 2035 and net-zero emissions economy-wide by 2050 – may feel “far-off” at the moment, but Biden has still remained steadfast and signaled that the climate is a chief concern for him by appointing two climate czars, up from the one who was president during the Obama administration. White House National Climate Adviser Gina McCarthy will oversee the nation’s domestic climate policy, while Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry will represent the U.S. on a global level.
Prominent leaders in the environmental protection industry are quite pleased with the president’s progress.
“The era of us having to do climate as this niche set of actions is over,” Josh Freed, founder of the Climate and Energy Program recently stated in an interview with Vox. “I think the thing that is really transformative potentially about this administration is it’s much bigger than a climate bill or a handful of bills.”
Carol Browner, who served as Obama’s climate czar and EPA administrator throughout Bill Clinton’s presidency is equally impressed with Biden’s initiative thus far.
“I’ve done this work for a really long time, and it was awesome to be a part of the Obama administration, but they’ve put this on steroids,” Browner said. “It’s ambitious, it’s proactive, [and] it’s durable action on climate change.”
Though some may be surprised by Biden’s recent prioritization of environmental issues – given that it was never a top issue for him throughout his decades in the Senate – he did work with renewable energy considerably while overseeing Obama’s 2009 stimulus plan as vice president. In addition, as a grandparent, there’s an added personal urge for Biden to protect the planet for his own family’s future.
Going forward, Biden will have to juggle the needs and opinions of a number of special interest groups as he fine tunes his environmental policy (including the progressive political action organization Sunrise Movement), but at the moment, most officials seem to agree that he’s off to a strong start.
“Leadership starts from the top,” said Heather Zichal, a former Obama White House staffer who assisted in creating Obama’s Clean Power Plan. “The fact [that] Biden has made it clear this is a top priority, we need to leave no stone unturned and move aggressively – that really, really matters.”