Biden and the Environment: The First 100 Days

Daniel Farber

April 29, 2021

This post was originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.

April 30 marks President Biden's first 100 days in office. He's appointed a great climate team and is negotiating an infrastructure bill that focuses on climate change. With luck, those actions will produce major environmental gains down the road. There are also some solid gains in the form of actions that have already come to fruition. Here's where things stand.

Executive orders. Former President Trump seemed to delight in issuing anti-environmental executive orders. All of those are gone now, replaced with Biden's environment-friendly substitute. In one important move, Biden restored former President Obama's estimate of the social cost of carbon, which Trump had slashed.

Foreign affairs. Here the big news is that Biden has taken the United States back into the Paris agreement and has submitted a commitment cut emissions by 50 percent from 2005 levels in the next ten years. He has also canceled Trump's approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Legislation. Biden's COVID stimulus plan mostly focused on getting money into a wide swath of the economy. It did provide $30 billion to help hard-hit mass transit systems get through the pandemic. It also made money available to state and local governments to spend on infrastructure, such as water and sewage systems. That can be considered climate change adaptation and should also improve drinking water quality and reduce water pollution.

The Senate recently voted to eliminate a Trump rollback of regulations on methane emissions from the oil and gas industry. The House is expected to follow suit.

Timing issues. Some of Trump's proposed regulatory rollbacks weren't final when Biden took office, and those are now dead. Biden has successfully delayed some rollbacks from going into effect, providing more time to undo them. Similarly, Biden has paused the issuance of new oil and gas leases on public lands. How long that pause will last remains to be seen.

Regulatory rollbacks. Some of Trump's deregulation was done through issuing guidance documents and policy handbooks, which the Biden administration has eliminated. Most regulatory rollbacks, however, can only be undone after a cumbersome administrative process. With a bit of help from the courts in some cases, however, Biden has been able to move more quickly to ax some of Trump's handiwork. Here's the list:

  • The Trump EPA authorized delays in reducing methane emissions from landfills. The Biden EPA successfully got a court to vacate the Trump action.

  • A Trump rule was designed to limit the public health information EPA could consider in setting new air pollution standards. The rule was vacated by a court. EPA didn't appeal, so the court ruling is final.

  • Another Trump rule blocked emissions standards for greenhouse gases except for electricity generators and transportation. This rule was vacated by a court at EPA's request.

  • The Trump EPA denied a petition to impose air quality standards for greenhouse gases. Biden rescinded the denial, thereby allowing further consideration.

What's next? Biden has already begun the cumbersome administrative process to eliminate Trump's remaining rollbacks, often with the goal of implementing much stronger regulations than Obama had developed.

To have the impact that Biden is hoping for, he will have to take actions an order of magnitude beyond what he's done so far. In particular, he's going to need to get some major funding for climate action through a closely divided Congress. The rest of what he's doing is important, but the money has the potential to be the real game-changer.

Stay tuned for the next 100 days.

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