Climate Change Executive Orders

January 28, 2021

President Biden delivered an address on climate change and signed a series of ambitious executive orders on the matter.

The President called climate change the “maximum threat” facing America and said the nation has waited too long to address the issue. He pointed to a Defense Department report that says climate change is a national security threat to two-thirds of U.S. operational strategic forces. He called for a unified national response but acknowledged the U.S. can’t stop global warming alone, and promised to put pressure on foreign countries to do their part. The President announced he will host an International Climate Summit of world leaders on Earth Day, April 22, 2021.

Biden then signed executive actions he said will “supercharge” the administration’s climate change agenda. These orders build upon climate actions taken immediately after his inauguration, which included rejoining the Paris Accords, suspending the Keystone XL pipeline permit, implementing a social cost of carbon in federal rulemakings, and halting 100+ Trump-era regulatory actions on energy and the environment.

Today’s actions include:

  • Commitments to double offshore wind by 2030 and achieve 100% carbon free electricity nationwide by 2035.
  • Orders the Department of Interior to suspend new oil and natural gas leasing on public lands, begin a “rigorous review” of existing permitting and leasing programs, and lay the groundwork for federal protection of 30% of all U.S. lands and waters by 2030.
  • “Plug” one million abandoned oil and natural gas wells across the country.
  • Orders federal fleets, including the U.S. Postal Service, to utilize zero-emission vehicles made in America.
  • To the extent allowed by law, end federal funding for fossil fuels and press Congress to eliminate oil and gas-related tax breaks.
  • Creation of a “Civilian Climate Corps” to enhance climate resilience, conduct reforestation, increase carbon sequestration in the agriculture, protect biodiversity, and help the nation adapt to climate change and be more resilient to storms, fires, and floods.
  • Instructs Defense, Homeland Security, and Intelligence agencies to prepare reports on the security implications of climate change.
  • Shifts U.S. domestic and international finance policies towards an anti-fossil fuel posture.

The President has also created a new White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy, led by former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, to oversee the administration’s overall climate efforts. He also created White House advisory and interagency councils on environmental justice to mitigate the impacts of pollution on low-income communities and communities of color, and will require 40% of federal climate change investments to flow to these communities. Also a new interagency task force will be created to coordinate the transition of coal, oil, and natural gas workers to the new “clean energy economy” and help local communities that serve these industries adapt to this change.

John Kerry of Massachusetts and Gina McCarthy of Connecticut – the new White House “Czars” on foreign and domestic climate policy, respectively – spoke at a White House press conference immediately before the President’s address. They outlined plans for a “whole of government approach” to climate change, which includes ensuring a climate office is created in nearly every single federal department, agency, and commission. McCarthy will lead a National Climate Task Force comprised of representatives from 21 federal departments and agencies to coordinate federal climate policy.

Biden has thus far resisted calls from Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer and other party leaders to issue a national emergency declaration for climate change. You will recall that President Trump issued a similar declaration on immigration. If taken, this action would expand the powers of the President to address the stated emergency without legislative action, which includes the repurposing of federal funds (as Trump did for border security). Honestly, I feel like this is still a possibility, perhaps on or around Earth Day. The White House also promised to submit its Nationally Determined Contribution Plan, which his required of all Paris Climate Accord nations, before the Earth Day Climate Summit.

The President also reiterated his belief that Congress needs to act on climate. As previously mentioned, he plans to send a climate-focused infrastructure and workforce development package to Congress next month, and it will probably be the focus of his State of the Union Address. Biden also promised that his departments and agencies will pursue an aggressive regulatory agenda the next four years, which will include tougher CAFE standards, reducing emissions from oil and gas production, and stronger restrictions on fugitive methane emissions.

In related news, the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee held a hearing to examine the nomination of former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm to serve as U.S. Energy Secretary. Granholm said repeatedly that lower emission energy sources and technologies provide the U.S. a “massive opportunity” to address climate change while also supporting American businesses and creating jobs. Senator Angus King, a member of the committee, invited the former Governor to visit Maine and tour off-shore wind projects (which she promised to do so).


Jim Collura, Vice President & Director of Government Affairs, NEFI