In his second week on the job, President Joe Biden continued his aggressive pace to implement the boldest federal climate and clean energy plan in history and making it a central issue across his agenda.
Biden Wednesday signed a far-reaching executive order that in broad strokes aims to lay the groundwork for his goals of a carbon-free power sector by 2035 and a net-zero U.S. economy by 2050.
- Formalizes that climate considerations will be an essential part of domestic and foreign policy and national security. Biden had already appointed former Secretary of State John Kerry as a first-time Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, including a seat on the National Security Council
- States Biden will host a Leaders’ Climate Summit on Earth Day, April 22, and reconvene the Major Economies Forum to further elevate climate in U.S. foreign policy
- Kicks off the development of a new U.S. emission reduction target as part of the global Paris climate agreement and would have the director of national intelligence report on the security implications of climate change
- Formally establishes the White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy, led by former Obama EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, and a National Climate Task Force involving officials from 21 federal agencies and departments.
- Pauses entering into new oil and natural gas leases on public lands or waters (except for tribal lands), begins a review of all existing oil and gas leases and permitting practices and a plan to double offshore wind production by 2030.
- Directs federal agencies to end fossil fuel subsidies. Biden will subsequently ask Congress to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies, which will be a tall order (see below).
“It’s not time for small measures. We need to be bold,” Biden said at Wednesday’s signing event.
Biden signed a separate memorandum directing federal agencies to use best-available science and data in all decisions and reestablishes the Presidential Council of Advisors on Science.
There was also movement on Capitol Hill for Biden’s cabinet nominees.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing Wednesday on former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s nomination to helm the Department of Energy.
The Senate Commerce Committee met Jan. 26 on Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo to be commerce secretary and will vote on her nomination Feb. 3. She was vague at her confirmation hearing about how she would handle tariffs the Trump administration imposed on imported solar panels from China, while repeatedly voicing support for offshore wind. The Commerce Department includes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees reviews of how offshore wind facilities affect fisheries and other marine life. Raimondo wants to streamline those reviews.
No hearing dates have been scheduled yet for the nominations of Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) as Interior Secretary and North Carolina environmental regulator Michael Regan to helm the Environmental Protection Agency. Career employees are acting heads of both until they are confirmed.
The Senate this week also confirmed Janet Yellen as treasury secretary. Yellen has pledged to create a team to focus on climate change and has noted that the climate crisis can’t be solved without putting a price on carbon emissions.
Separately, the Federal Reserve board is creating a new Supervision Climate Committee, headed by New York Fed’s Kevin Stiroh, focused on supervising banks for financial risks posed by climate change.
The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, on a 21-3 vote, approved Pete Buttigieg as transportation secretary. The full Senate will vote to confirm his nomination Tuesday. In his Jan. 21 confirmation hearing, he often referenced the role infrastructure can play in combating climate change, including building out electric vehicle charging capabilities and setting strong fuel economy standards. The Biden administration last week had already named three climate hawks to senior positions at DOT. That includes Steve Cliff, deputy executive director at the California Air Resources Board, as deputy administrator at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which will work with the Environmental Protection Agency to set new fuel efficiency standards. Annie Petsonk, a lawyer at the Environmental Defense Fund, was also tapped to be principal deputy assistant secretary for aviation and international affairs.
Biden also tapped Chris Hanson as the new chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which will be a critical overseer of progress made toward small module and other advanced reactors in the coming years.
None of this makes it any easier for Biden to push a comprehensive climate and clean energy plan through Congress.
A 50-50 tie in the Senate gives enormous influence to coal-state Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who chairs the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. While he was effusive in his praise to Granholm in her confirmation hearing, he and fellow coal-state Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) got her to walk back some from her previous stated goal of keeping fossil fuels in the ground. She stressed that net-zero goals can’t be reached without carbon capture, hydrogen and direct air capture and promised Manchin she will “push on carbon management solutions” that are key to continuing use of fossil fuels. “It is important as we develop fossil fuels, we also develop the technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” she told Barrasso.
Meanwhile, the Democratically-run House might be moving on a more aggressive path. Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone said he intends to include major climate provisions in an infrastructure package in the coming months.
Democrats, led by Senate Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders, could also use the budget reconciliation process, which allows for a limited type of provisions to skirt Senate filibusters.