January 28, 2021 9:15 AM, EST

Biden Directs Agencies to Address Climate Change

Michigan floodWater overflows the Tittabawassee River in Midland, Mich., on May 20, 2020. (Carlos Osorio/File/AP)

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New directives approved by President Joe Biden in response to climate change set in motion an extensive environmental agenda throughout federal agencies while rolling back Trump-era guidance on permitting.

These executive orders the president signed prepare a foundation for his $2 trillion infrastructure plan that would call for the modernization of commercial and commuter transportation sectors. Biden’s team suggested the comprehensive infrastructure proposal would be unveiled in February.

He kicked off his administration by rejoining the Paris Agreement on climate change and canceling permits for the Keystone XL pipeline.

NEPA by Transport Topics

The new directives order the Council on Environmental Quality and the Office of Management and Budget to ensure federal infrastructure investments reduce climate pollution. They also require that federal permitting decisions consider the impact of greenhouse gas emissions.

“Even as our nation emerges from profound public health and economic crises borne of a pandemic, we face a climate crisis that threatens our people and communities, public health and economy, and, starkly, our ability to live on planet Earth,” Biden said in a statement accompanying an order issued Jan. 27.

The president also noted, “Despite the peril that is already evident, there is promise in the solutions — opportunities to create well-paying union jobs to build a modern and sustainable infrastructure.”

As part of the directives, the White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy, as well as a National Climate Task Force, were created. Members of the task force include Cabinet-level officials, such as the secretary of transportation. According to a summary provided by the White House, accelerating clean energy projects is a priority for the administration’s efforts to rebuild infrastructure for a sustainable economy.

Additionally, the Biden White House revoked certain Trump-era guidance on the environmental review and permitting process linked to the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA. The new administration also directed agencies to review existing environmental regulations, orders, guidance and policies either issued or adopted during President Donald Trump’s tenure.

According to an executive order signed Jan. 20, Biden explained his policy is to “improve public health and protect our environment; to ensure access to clean air and water; to limit exposure to dangerous chemicals and pesticides; to hold polluters accountable, including those who disproportionately harm communities of color and low-income communities … to bolster resilience to the impacts of climate change.”

On Capitol Hill, key Democrats praised the White House’s sweeping effort to proceed with a climate change agenda focused on jobs and certain reductions to fossil fuels. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), incoming chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, observed, “Meeting the demands of the climate crisis is an urgent challenge that presents us with an incredible opportunity.”

"This series of executive orders marks a vital push to invest in our clean energy future, create good-paying sustainable jobs, build clean infrastructure, and restore the integrity of science and evidence in policymaking,” added Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.).

Experts participating at the Transportation Research Board’s annual meeting, held virtually because of COVID-19, reacted to Biden’s executive orders on climate change and environmental reviews.

Manisha Patel, an environmental policy consultant moderating a panel Jan. 27, noted, “The point is that at the end of the day, the NEPA documentation really serves the purpose of informing the public and providing decision-makers with the information they need to be able to make sound decisions.”

Rich Walter, vice president of environmental planning at ICF, added: “The new administration is already making change, they will be making change. We know that’s a priority based on the things they’ve already done in the last week.”

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