In his inaugural address, President Biden spoke of “a cry for survival” coming from our planet. Just days after taking office, the new administration appears ready to heed that call, starting with a suite of executive actions aimed at curtailing climate change and repairing the harm done to core clean water and clean air regulations.
It couldn’t come at a more crucial time. Our nation is experiencing multiple compounding challenges—the coronavirus pandemic, an economic crisis, racial injustices, and more—that are inextricably tied to the health of our environment, including here in the Chesapeake Bay. For example, poor air quality has been tied to greater vulnerability to COVID-19, restaurant shutdowns have badly hurt the local seafood industry, and persistent environmental injustices continue to place a heavier pollution burden on minority communities. Climate change exacerbates nearly all of these problems, and it is already making Bay restoration harder despite signs of improvement.
The Biden administration faces a steep climb to address these issues. Over the past four years, protections for our nation’s land, water, air, and public health were systematically chipped away, weakening our ability to restore the Chesapeake Bay and fight climate change.
Recently, we highlighted a list of key actions the Biden administration should take to help get Bay restoration back on track. Here is what President Biden has already done to begin addressing those priorities:
Day One: Initiated review of harmful regulations.
On his first day in office, President Biden began to address the dozens of rollbacks to environmental regulations that occurred over the past four years, including regulations critical to the success of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. Specifically, he ordered all federal agencies to review new regulations from the past four years that are harmful to the environment and public health. The executive order lays out a core set of principles to guide the review process. Those principles are:
- Listen to the science;
- Improve public health and protect our environment;
- Ensure access to clean air and water;
- Limit exposure to dangerous chemicals and pesticides;
- Hold polluters accountable, including those who disproportionately harm communities of color and low-income communities;
- Reduce greenhouse gas emissions;
- Bolster resilience to the impacts of climate change;
- Restore and expand our national treasures and monuments; and
- Prioritize both environmental justice and the creation of the well-paying union jobs necessary to deliver on these goals.
This action is just the first step toward shoring up environmental protections for clean air and water, but it is important and necessary. Think of it like surveying a home for damage after a storm—you have to know what’s broken before you can fix it.
Over the next few months, the review will likely cover many of the regulations important to Bay restoration that CBF and our members and supporters have worked on over the past four years, including:
- Clean water rules: Review of the Waters of the United States rule that weakened protections for wetlands and seasonal streams and a rule that changed the permitting processes for infrastructure projects, undermining states’ ability to protect their waterways;
- Clean air rules: Review of regulations that weakened vehicle emissions standards, particulate matter, or ‘soot’, standards, and controls on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, as well as changes to how EPA weighs human health when calculating the costs and benefits of regulating air pollution;
- National Environmental Policy Act: Review changes that effectively blocked the federal government from considering climate change in decision-making and erected barriers to public input when deciding the fate of projects such as pipelines and highways;
- Science transparency rule: Review a rule that restricts the types of studies EPA can consider when developing environmental regulations and limits the agency’s ability to rely on science.
The executive order calls special attention to the Vehicle Emissions Standards, Cost-Benefit Analysis, and Secret Science rules and sets definitive deadlines for when the agencies must complete their review and, where appropriate, outline what actions they propose to take.
Again, it is important to recognize that this is just the first step in a long process to undo many of the harmful environmental rollbacks of the past four years. In many cases, there will need to be robust public discussion, detailed scientific review, and consultation with experts and industry leaders.
Week One: Issued orders to tackle climate change, address environmental justice, and create conservation jobs.
From warmer temperatures and rising seas to the increased intensity and severity of storms, climate change is a real threat to the Chesapeake Bay and our communities and requires swift action. CBF has called on the Biden administration to take action to address climate change, invest in well-paying conservation jobs that deliver clear water quality and climate benefits, and advance environmental justice.
One week into office, President Biden issued a series of orders to begin addressing climate change from a ‘whole of government’ approach. He has also brought climate experts into the White House to help center job creation and equity in his decision-making.
Here are some of the most important actions taken this week:
- Coordinate response to climate change across the government: The impacts of climate change do not impact just one sector or another and are already being felt here in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Recognizing that, President Biden has established a National Climate Task Force, which will bring together leaders from 21 different federal agencies to combat climate change in a coordinated manner. Just like the Chesapeake Bay Program brings together multiple federal agencies, such as EPA, USDA, and NOAA, to address pollution in the Bay watershed, the National Climate Task Force will coordinate multiple federal agencies to address climate change.
- Establish a Civilian Climate Corps initiative: Grounded on the successful job creation and conservation focused New Deal programming of the Roosevelt era (sometimes called ‘Roosevelt’s Tree Army”), President Biden issued an order to “advance conservation, agriculture, and reforestation.” Within this order, the federal government is directed to create a climate corps initiative that would work to conserve and restore public lands and waters, increase reforestation, increase carbon sequestration in the agricultural sector, protect biodiversity, improve access to recreation, and address climate change. CBF has advocated for this type of approach as a means to produce well-paying jobs across the watershed in light of the COVID-19 economic crisis, and increase capacity to implement conservation best management practices, such as planting trees and restoring wetlands, that are essential to achieving the commitments of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, especially in Pennsylvania.
- Secure environmental justice and spur economic opportunity: Clean water, clean air, and a safe environment are rights we all share. President Biden has called on federal agencies to make environmental justice a part of their everyday mission. Agencies will be tasked with addressing the disproportionate health, environmental, economic, and climate impacts on disadvantaged communities. A new White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council and White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council will be established to ensure coordination of initiatives occurs across the government.
Action at the federal level is critical to saving the Chesapeake Bay. CBF has a long history of working on federal policy and regulatory issues to help restore and protect clean water, and we absolutely couldn’t do it without the help of our members and supporters. As the Biden administration begins its work, we’ll keep you updated on their progress and the processes used to implement the directives in these orders and let you know how you can raise your voice with us to ensure their success.
Katie Morgan, Federal Outreach and Advocacy Manager