On Day One, the 46th President of the United States signaled his focus on climate, the environment, and energy in executive orders, official correspondence, and memoranda. In a few strokes of his pen, the President undid much or all of what his predecessor had done, also largely by executive order, and cast into doubt many of the prior administration’s environmental and energy policies and rules.
As has been widely reported, the new administration’s Day One executive actions established and implemented a broad range of policy objectives, several of which were environmental, that immediately start to make good on some of the commitments of candidate Biden during his campaign and President Biden in his inaugural address:
- Retracting the United States’ withdrawal from the World Health Organization
- Rejoining the Paris Climate Accord
- Extending a moratorium on rural residential foreclosures and evictions
- Advancing racial equity
- Requiring an ethics pledge for governmental appointees
- Providing a moratorium on oil and gas leasing in the Arctic Refuge
- Promoting climate science and reviewing the prior administration’s rules
While unable to change substantive rules, the administration’s memorandum “Modernizing Regulatory Review” weaves themes together of environmental justice and equality. It supports the administrative agencies recommending steps for “improving and modernizing regulatory review” in order to “promote public health and safety, economic growth, social welfare, racial justice, environmental stewardship, human dignity, equity, and the interests of future generations.” Among other things, this memorandum order seeks to review the regulatory process by
(i) identifying ways to modernize and improve the regulatory review to reflect current science and economics considerations even where “difficult or impossible” to measure; and
(ii) considering the regulatory impact on disadvantaged communities.
Similar themes are presented in the administration’s “Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities through the Federal Government.” The order imposes equitable assessment benchmarking across agency programs to examine barriers in and to federal programs.
Perhaps the boldest order for environmental lawyers was President Biden’s “Executive Order on Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis.” The order directs executive agency heads to review hundreds of agency actions implemented during the Trump Administration, including more than 120 related to energy and the environment. In addition, the order suspends or revokes, in whole or in part, nearly one dozen Executive Orders issued by the prior president that were directly tied to energy infrastructure.
The order includes the phrases “listening to science” and “holding polluters accountable.” It also emphasizes reviewing all regulations of the last administration for disproportionate effects on low-income areas. Parenthetically, as noted in Seth Jaffe’s Law & the Environment Blog—the line between legitimate environmental concern based on cost benefit and NIMBY reactions is narrow but must be drawn.
Opposition has already been expressed to many of these measures, several of which will surely spur litigation.
By: Brian Rosenthal and Tim Webster