U.S. President Joe Biden is expected to pause new oil and gas leasing on federal lands and waters and unveil an ambitious plan to put environmental justice at the centre of his climate program in a series of executive orders to be signed later today.
“Climate day is coming,” Politico Morning Energy headlined Monday morning. “The Biden administration is planning a series of themed days this week,” the publication explained, “each packed with corresponding executive actions, with climate change earmarked for Wednesday.”
A White House memo that circulated widely over the last couple of days said Biden would sign an “omnibus” executive order that “initiates [a] series of regulatory actions to combat climate change domestically and elevates climate change as a national security priority”. He’ll sign a directive mandating science- and evidence-based decision-making at U.S. government agencies, re-establish the Presidential Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), and announce plans to host an international climate leaders’ summit on Earth Day April 22.
The incoming administration had also promised to invest 40% of its green transition funds in marginalized communities. and Biden appears likely to make a start down that road today, with a focus on racial and economic disparities that will have his climate plan “prioritizing environmental justice for the first time in a generation,” the Washington Post writes.
“As part of an unprecedented push to cut the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions and create new jobs as the United States shifts toward cleaner energy, Biden will direct agencies across the federal government to invest in low-income and minority communities that have traditionally borne the brunt of pollution,” the paper adds, citing two administration sources. He’ll sign an executive order that sets up a White House interagency council on environmental justice, an office of health and climate equity at the Department of Health and Human Services, and a new environmental justice office at the Department of Justice.
“At the heart of Biden’s executive action Wednesday is an effort to improve conditions in Black, Latino, and Native American communities targeted for hazards that others did not want: power plants, landfills, trash incinerators, shipping ports, uranium mines, and factories,” the Post explains.
“Communities where air quality is poor suffer from higher levels of asthma and respiratory and heart diseases. As a result, African Americans and Latinos, along with Native Americans, have suffered disproportionately from the coronavirus, a respiratory illness, and are more likely to die.”
The Post casts the environmental justice order as “part of a far-reaching, all-of-government effort to transition the United States away from fossil fuels—a goal that Biden has consistently listed as a top priority and one that will undoubtedly include powerful allies and fierce resistance alike.”
Environmental justice advocate Robert Bullard, a professor at Texas Southern University, said the creation of an environmental justice office at Justice points to the important, pervasive issues involved. “When you have the most powerful legal department in the country saying environmental justice is a basic right, I think that is a signal being sent across the country to say that this is real at the highest level,” he told the Post.
The news story has more on discussions and official statements supporting the executive orders.
The fossil fuel leasing order, meanwhile, “will include a moratorium on the Interior Department offering new oil and gas leases for onshore and offshore federal properties,” Politico reported Monday, citing its own government sources. With the moratorium in place, “the administration is expected to review the criteria under which leases and drilling permits are given and possibly invite public comment.”
While the Monday report had the pause lasting a year for oil and gas and up to three years for coal, a more recent report in the Post says the announcement may only cover oil and gas. “The moratorium would not affect existing leases, meaning drilling would continue on public land in the West as well as in the Gulf of Mexico,” the paper writes.
“Other new policies include protecting 30% of federal land and water by the end of the decade and identifying climate change as a national security priority.”
Use of federal and tribal lands for fossil fuels “accounts for nearly a quarter of the country’s annual carbon output,” the Post notes. “The drilling program also generated nearly US$8.1 billion in tax revenue for federal, state, local, and tribal governments last year.” Now, “environmentalists say the pause will allow the new administration to assess whether taxpayers are being adequately compensated for the minerals extracted from land they own.”
“By pausing the broken leasing system and halting the giveaways to oil and gas executives, President Biden has an opportunity to meaningfully fix the leasing system for the first time in nearly four decades with solutions that work for the public and which incorporate ambitious conservation, taxpayer fairness, and climate goals,” said Center for American Progress senior policy analyst Jenny Rowland-Shea. “We can make sure our public lands and coasts are preserved, accessible, and beneficial to everyone—not abused by oil and gas corporations.”
The American Petroleum Institute had already criticized Biden for announcing a 60-day leasing freeze last week. CEO Mike Sommers now says the moratorium will damage U.S. producers and help its international rivals.
“Restricting development on federal lands and waters is nothing more than an ‘import more oil’ policy,” he told the Post. “Energy demand will continue to rise—especially as the economy recovers—and we can choose to produce that energy here in the United States or rely on foreign countries hostile to American interests.”
[The U.S. can also set out to drive down that demand with aggressive energy efficiency measures, and supply any remaining requirements with newly-affordable renewable sources. Oh, wait. The shift is already happening, and this White House appears to know it.—Ed.]
On Monday, as well, Biden tweeted his first indication since taking office that the U.S. government will replace the 645,000 vehicles in its fleet—including 245,000 civilian, 225,000 postal service, and 173,000 military vehicles—with electric models, Electrek reports.
“Biden talked a lot about American-made electric vehicles during the campaign, so an announcement to this effect is not unexpected, but campaign promises do not always translate to real action,” the publication states. “Some federal vehicles may avoid replacement in the short term – it would be a significant cost to retire certain vehicles early, and some specialized vehicles will undoubtedly require more development before they’re ready to be electrified. But mass usage of electric vehicles should bring significant cost savings in fuel and maintenance for the government over the longer term, especially in vehicles that see a lot of use.”
In particular, Electrek says postal service vehicles are “ripe for replacement, with the Grumman LLV, used by the Post Office since the late 1980s, showing its age. These vehicles do short, consistent daily routes with a lot of starting and stopping, which is an ideal application for electric vehicles.”
Incoming Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has said he wants to see “millions” of EV on U.S. roads, Electrek adds.