In his first day of office, President Joe Biden quickly enacted 15 executive orders and two memos to set the agenda for changes he wants from the previous administration. As expected, a major initial focus on this administration will look at the impact on the environment. Additional executive actions on climate are also expected on Jan. 27.
Specifically, in an Executive Order on Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis Biden calls for advancing “environmental justice.” He lays out the policy of his administration will be to “listen to the science...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.”
Here's a quick look at some immediate impacts of this executive order and others related to climate.
Paris Agreement on Climate Change
The president signed the instrument to rejoin the Paris Agreement. The instrument was deposited with the United Nations on Jan. 20, and the United States will officially become a party again 30 days later.
The Solutions from the Land coalition said reentering the accord is important for agriculture. “SfL endorses this move because the future of agriculture is being shaped at this global negotiating table, and we need the presence and leadership of the United States government to ensure that the needs and contributions of U.S. farmers, ranchers and foresters are met and maximized,” SfL President Ernie Shea states in a recent blog.
Like it or not, agriculture is a principal discussion topic in the United Nations Framework Climate Change Convention, Shea adds. “The conversations that take place and the decisions that are reached will shape the future of U.S. agriculture. It is often said that ‘the world is run by those who show up,’ and the United States agricultural sector takes itself out of that category when it refuses to come to the table.”
The National Farmers Union also welcomed the return to the Paris Climate accord. “When it left the Paris Climate Agreement, the United States abdicated its moral obligation to protect its citizens and the planet from the existential threat of climate change. Without the support of one of the largest and wealthiest nations, the whole world has fallen behind in this battle – a fact that is undeniably alarming and distressing.
“Today, however, as the U.S. rejoins nearly every other country to mitigate and adapt to this crisis, there is reason to feel hopeful about our future. We commend President Biden for approaching climate change with the urgency it deserves and prioritizing solutions from day one. Over the next four years, he must build on this effort with aggressive, economy-wide climate action and ongoing global leadership,” says NFU President Rob Larew.
Cost of reducing climate pollution
The EO calls for the establishment of an interagency working group on the social cost of greenhouses gases. “The ‘social cost of carbon’ (SCC), ‘social cost of nitrous oxide’ (SCN), and ‘social cost of methane’ (SCM) are estimates of the monetized damages associated with incremental increases in greenhouse gas emissions. They are intended to include changes in net agricultural productivity, human health, property damage from increased flood risk, and the value of ecosystem services,” the executive order says.
Within 30 days, the working group is to monetize the value of changes in greenhouse gas emissions resulting from regulations and other agency actions. The executive order also lays out a series of deadlines with recommendations to the president by September 2021 and to publish final SCC, SCN and SCM values by January 2022.
Revoking Keystone XL Pipeline permit
On March 29, 2019, President Donald Trump granted to TransCanada Keystone Pipeline, L.P., a permit to construct, connect, operate and maintain pipeline facilities at the international border of the United States and Canada. Biden took action to immediately revoke the permit, citing a 2015 analysis which concluded that the significance of the proposed pipeline for U.S. energy security and economy is “limited” and instead “stressed that the United States must prioritize the development of a clean energy economy.”
Steve Dittmer, executive vice president of Agribusiness Freedom Foundation, says halting the partially constructed pipeline that carries oil from Alberta through Montana, the Dakotas and Nebraska to join other pipelines carrying oil to the U.S. Gulf refineries “will contribute to energy cost increases in the future for agricultural operations” and “it may provoke trade retaliations that could damage the substantial beef export business to Canada.”
Dittmer notes that Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.V., “pointed out that killing the pipeline and rejoining the Paris accord was a quick start to killing jobs, while other Republicans pegged the moves as moving to the far left, not forward and not being centrist as Biden campaigned.”
Restoring national monuments
The Obama Administration greatly expanded the use of the Antiquities Act which gives the president the ability to “declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated on land owned or controlled by the Federal Government to be national monuments.”
Private property rights and federal land use and grazing become important regarding these expansions of federal monuments. These were overturned and rolled back during the Trump administration, but already Biden is asking the secretaries of agriculture and commerce to conduct a review of the monument boundaries on the Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante and Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine national monuments.
Fuel economy standards
Another component of the executive order directs agencies to consider revising vehicle fuel economy and emissions standards, methane emissions standards and appliance and building efficiency standards.
Although Renewable Fuel Association President and CEO Geoff Cooper didn’t want to comment directly on the fuel economy standards, Cooper did want to stress that RFA would “welcome and support a comprehensive and scrutinous review of the actions EPA took — and didn’t take (like approving cellulosic ethanol pathways)— under Wheeler and Pruitt on the RFS and other ethanol issues, as outlined in the executive order.”
Leaders of the National Corn Growers Association including President John Linder and 21 state corn grower association presidents, sent a letter to Biden voicing support for working together on efforts to address climate change, one of the Biden-Harris administration’s top policy priorities.
“Higher-octane fuels, most effectively achieved by blending more low carbon ethanol, would unlock increased gains in vehicle efficiency, equating to more miles per gallon, and an even further reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. We look forward to working closely with your Administration and Congress to begin the transition of the nation’s fuel supply to a higher-octane, low carbon fuel,” they wrote.