On Jan. 20, 2021, Joseph R. Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States. He did not delay in demonstrating the Biden administration’s commitment to immediately confront climate change and other issues that impact the energy and environmental sectors. On his first day in office, President Biden signed an executive order titled Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis (EO) that rolls back many of the Trump-era policies related to environmental and energy policy. In particular, the EO addresses the following:
Immediate Review of Agency Actions
President Biden directed all federal agencies and executive departments to immediately review and take appropriate action to address all existing regulations or other executive actions adopted between Jan. 20, 2017, and Jan. 20, 2021, and any policies that Biden officials deem inconsistent with the Biden administration’s policy “to listen to the science; 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 reduce greenhouse gas emissions; to bolster resilience to the impacts of climate change; to restore and expand our national treasures and monuments; and to prioritize both environmental justice and the creation of the well-paying union jobs necessary to deliver on these goals.”
As part of this review, President Biden is directing the heads of the relevant administrative agencies to review and, if they deem appropriate, rescind or revise certain specific environmental and energy-related regulations adopted by the Trump administration in 2019 and 2020, including (1) methane emission standards that apply to the oil and natural gas industry, (2) vehicle emissions standards for passenger cars and light trucks, (3) energy conservation standards for consumer products and commercial/industrial equipment, and (4) the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s residual risk and technology review for coal- and oil-fired power plants pursuant to the EPA’s national emission standards for hazardous air pollutants.
Keystone XL Pipeline
President Biden revoked the March 2019 construction permit for TC Energy Corporation’s Keystone XL oil pipeline, which would have transported crude oil from Alberta, Canada to the American Gulf Coast.
In 2015, President Barack Obama rejected the project; however, in 2019, President Donald Trump granted the Keystone XL pipeline’s permit. The EO stated that the pipeline “disserves the U.S. national interest” and “would not be consistent with [the Biden] Administration’s economic and climate imperatives.”
In a Jan. 20, 2021 news release, TC Energy expressed disappointment with the permit revocation, stating that the decision will “overturn an unprecedented, comprehensive regulatory process that lasted more than a decade and repeatedly concluded the pipeline would transport much needed energy in an environmentally responsible way while enhancing North American energy security.” TC Energy further stated that the executive action will “directly lead to the layoff of thousands of union workers and negatively impact ground-breaking industry commitments to use new renewable energy as well as historic equity partnerships with Indigenous communities.” The company has suspended its work on the Keystone XL pipeline and will assess the decision to revoke the pipeline’s permit, determine any implications, and consider options.
President Biden placed a temporary moratorium on oil and gas leasing activities at the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge just one day after the Trump Administration issued leases from its first sale. The EO directs the secretary of the interior to conduct a new analysis of the potential environmental impacts of the oil and gas program. The EO also restores the original withdrawal of certain offshore areas in Arctic waters and the Bering Sea from oil and gas drilling.
Interagency Working Group on Social Cost of Greenhouse Gases
The EO establishes the Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Greenhouse Gases, citing a need for agencies to “capture the full costs of greenhouse gas emissions as accurately as possible, including by taking global damages into account” and recognizing that “[a]n accurate social cost is essential for agencies to accurately determine the social benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions when conducting cost-benefit analyses of regulatory and other actions.” The EO directs the working group to publish interim social costs of carbon, nitrous oxide, and methane within thirty days and final social costs by January 2022; recommend areas of decision making, budgeting, and procurement where the social costs of these greenhouse gases should be applied by Sept. 1, 2021; and recommend a process to ensure social costs calculations remain current and supported by the best available economics and science and to further ensure that they adequately account for climate risk, environmental justice, and intergenerational equity by June 1, 2022.
Paris Climate Agreement
In addition to the EO, President Biden also recommitted the U.S. to the Paris climate agreement, the international deal designed to avert disastrous global warming. The U.S. will officially rejoin the Paris climate accords 30 days from Jan. 20, 2021. In 2019, President Trump formally notified the United Nations that the U.S. would withdraw from the coalition of nearly 200 countries working to move away from planet-warming emissions to prevent the consequences of climate change.
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Chair
On Jan. 21, 2021, President Biden tapped Richard Glick to chair the FERC. Previously, Chairman Glick was nominated by President Trump to the FERC in August 2017 and is currently serving a term that expires on June 30, 2022; therefore, his appointment as the FERC chair does not require Senate confirmation. Before joining the commission, Chairman Glick was general counsel for the Democrats on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, serving as a senior policy advisor on many issues including renewable energy and electricity.