Healthy Oceans Blog

President Biden's First Day in Office: A Promise of Tomorrow

“A cry for survival comes from the planet itself. A cry that can’t be any more desperate or any more clear.”

— President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Inaugural Address

One only has to look at the contents of President Biden’s Inaugural Address to determine the core components of the new Administration. On Day One, the Biden-Harris Administration put words into action with a set of Presidential Orders on a range of pressing issues, including climate change. By end of day, President Biden signed a set of documents charging federal agencies, offices, and departments with the work of undoing the last four years of environmental rollbacks, roadblocks, and large sink holes put in place by the Trump Administration. It will take more than just these actions, but starting off Day One with directives on climate, COVID-19, and justice means something.

Inauguration Day Sunrise, Washington, D.C. (photo credit: Geoff Livingston, Flickr, creative commons license)

The Healthy Oceans Coalition applauds President Biden’s historic and swift action to begin reversing the environmental damage and neglect of the Trump Administration and start putting campaign climate commitments into motion. We are especially pleased to see the Administration prioritizing climate, justice, and the protection of our national monuments like Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante, and Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monuments. The harms caused by President Trump’s illegal and unprecedented rollbacks to our nation’s communities, public health, and natural environment are real and lasting.

Overall, the Biden Administration has set the stage for a substantial set of work for his executive agencies. Here are the three main Day One actions:

First, in his third action in the Oval Office as President, Joe Biden signed an Order committing the United States to rejoining the Paris Agreement on Climate, which will take approximately 30 days to complete.

Second, is an Executive Order to modernize and improve the regulatory review process, which may not seem important for environment or climate purposes, but actually is since rules pertaining to climate action and environmental protection are done in large part through the regulatory process. This order directs the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to develop recommendations to improve regulatory review that can “promote public health and safety, economic growth, social welfare, racial justice, environmental stewardship, human dignity, equity, and the interests of future generations” and should be informed through public engagement with stakeholders (that’s you and me!). This is an important Executive Order to watch.

Third, the bulk of environmental and climate action taken on Day One is found in “Executive Order on Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis”. It is a long document and there will be many analyses, but here are our top-level points:

~ States the commitment of the Nation to 1) empower workers and communities, 2) promote and protect the nation’s public health and environment, and 3) conserve our national treasures and monuments, places that secure our national memory. (Section 1)

~ States a lengthy Policy of the Administration that basically ties together the linkages we know exist between public health and the environment and prioritizes:

  • restoring and expanding our national treasures and monuments,
  • reducing greenhouse gas emissions,
  • holding polluters accountable – especially those who disproportionately harm communities of color and low-income communities,
  • limiting our exposure to bad chemicals/pesticides,
  • ensuring access to clean air and water,
  • listening to science and improving public health and protecting our environment.

~ Prioritizes environmental justice and the creation of jobs to deliver on these above goals.

~ Immediately charges federal agencies to review and take action to 1) address any federal regulation or action over the last four years that conflicts with these now national objectives and 2) commence work to confront the climate crisis. Agency heads have 30-days to send a list of actions being considered and 90-days to send an updated list to the Director of OMB and National Climate Advisor. (Section 1)

~ Agency heads are given broad latitude under this order to review agency actions from the previous administration that do not comport with these national objectives. Four specific Trump actions must also immediately be reviewed around methane emissions, fuel economy standards, appliance and building efficiency standards, and air pollution standards. (Section 2)

~ Requires the review of the modifications in boundaries and conditions for three national monuments: Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante, and Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine to determine if restoration of original boundaries is appropriate. This must be done within 60-days and allows the Attorney General to request a stay or delay in litigation over these national monuments. (Section 3)

~ Places a temporary moratorium on all activities related to implementing the oil and gas leasing program in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge due to the deficiencies in the program. (Section 4)

~ Reinstates the Northern Bering Sea Climate Resilience Executive Order and Presidential Memorandum that reinstates the withdrawal of the areas in the Arctic and Bering Sea waters from oil and gas drilling. By President Obama in 2016. (Section 4)

~ Establishes the Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Greenhouse Gases that will account for the benefit of reducing climate pollution. (Section 5)

~ Revokes the permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline because it disserves the U.S. National Interest and undermines U.S. climate leadership and our economic and climate imperatives. (Section 6)

~ Revokes or rescinds a host of Trump executive actions on environment, including:

  • Executive Order 13778 of February 28, 2017 (Restoring the Rule of Law, Federalism, and Economic Growth by Reviewing the “Waters of the United States” Rule),
  • Executive Order 13792 of April 26, 2017 (Review of Designations Under the Antiquities Act),
  • Executive Order 13795 of April 28, 2017 (Implementing an America-First Offshore Energy Strategy), and
  • Draft National Environmental Policy Act Guidance on Consideration of Greenhouse Gas Emissions (and charges CEQ with updating the Obama Era guidance).

Two things that immediately stand out to us are, first, the immediate review of Trump’s rollback for the boundaries and protections of 3 national monuments – including our only Atlantic Marine National Monument, the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts. While the order does not fully restore monument protections, it is a crucial first step to prepare for restoration and an important signal that the Biden Administration fully intends to follow through on their commitments to restore protections to our cherished monuments – or as the Biden Administration calls them, the places that secure our national memory. We look forward to the Biden Administration undoing the damage caused in quick order and restoring protections for these irreplaceable cultural, historic, and natural treasures for all people for all time.

Second is the revocation of the Trump Administration’s order on an “America First Offshore Energy Strategy”. The offshore energy order set up a list of harmful and irresponsible actions around working toward full utilization of federal waters and reviews of our protected ocean places – our network of marine sanctuaries and marine national monuments. We are beyond pleased to see the immediate revocation of an Executive Order that had a laser focus on extractive activities for these protected places.

Hope Lights Up the Night. Washington, D.C. (photo credit: Geoff Livingston, Flickr, creative commons license)

The work to protect our health and environment began long before this Administration and will continue long past this Administration but what we have today is a PROMISE.

A promise for more, a commitment for more. It’s up to us to make sure we get there together by raising our voices in both in support and guidance for the actions this Administration will take to ensure healthy people and a healthy planet.