November 2020 brought in a new president of the United States. After election day turned into almost a full week of waiting for results, Joe Biden won the presidential race. Now, the Biden administration faces the daunting task of undoing countless laws and regulations the Trump administration set in place. Biden will be able to immediately undo some of these environmental rollbacks with executive orders, but others may take a few years to undo and replace. With dedication, though, this administration can make significant strides for the world.
What Environmental Rollbacks Should Biden Undo?
Before Biden can undo anything, his administration must first compile the changes the Trump administration enacted. According to The New York Times, Trump rolled back or altered over 100 environment-focused laws during his four years in office. Biden has his work cut out for him.
Protections of natural spaces, indigenous lands and animals are all at stake. For instance, under Trump, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) controversially rolled back environmental compliance rules for certain businesses. The Trump administration also reversed Obama-era methane control rules that sought to limit the amount of methane emissions released. Another controversial action by Trump allowed oil drilling in Alaska, which sparked conversation about ecosystem destruction and Native American land ownership.
Endangered species require more protections now, as well, from human-driven dangers like poaching after Trump legalized bringing elephant parts and trophies to the States.
Ultimately, these examples are just a few of many. Vehicle fuel economy and other energy efficiency regulations add to the growing list of legislations that Biden must act quickly to reverse or aid.
The Easy, the Medium, and the Difficult
The road ahead for Biden’s environmental actions will fall into three categories. Each one will be easy, medium, or difficult to undo or amend.
So far, Biden has signed 37 executive orders while in office. The executive actions Biden takes, and those environmental rollbacks he reverses from the Trump era, are easy to change. For instance, one of the orders had the US rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement. Another canceled the Keystone XL Pipeline.
However, the effects of leaving the Paris Climate Agreement may be a bit harder to reverse. After wildfires across the west coast and extreme winter weather, rejoining the Agreement is not enough. Biden must focus on immediate changes. Specifically, he will have to guide America away from fossil fuels towards renewables.
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This fossil fuel focus will be complicated as well since the country is so reliant on it. In fact, fossil fuels accounted for 80% of domestic energy production and consumption in 2019.
Many states, like California and Massachusetts, seek to meet individual climate deadlines in the coming years. But meeting these requires immediate mobilisation on some medium-difficulty action items. Are the 15-20-year goals that companies and governments are setting for reducing emissions fast enough? With such drastic environmental changes, the Biden administration will need stricter and more immediate deadlines.
Most difficult will be the EPA regulations that Biden has to undo and replace. These shifts could take up to two years to complete. Since Trump’s EPA leadership lined up with his own climate denialist beliefs and interests, Biden’s new staff has to rewrite the EPA guidelines, which could take a significant amount of time.
For instance, Biden needs to rewrite protections for wetlands after Trump stripped them away, halt the construction of oil facilities in Alaska, and revise Trump’s alterations to the Clean Water Act, on top of the dozens and dozens of specific and overarching environmental protections that need improvements.
The Pandemic Factors
The COVID-19 pandemic exposed several more issues that now require federal attention. At the top of the list is public health. The economy is trying to recover, with the US still coming down from a record high unemployment rate from April 2020.
Science-based decisions are essential and will provide solutions for public health, the economy and the environment.
Clean electricity, fossil fuels and building efficiency are the main areas to focus on. Solar, wind and geothermal energy are practical solutions that are dropping in cost every year. Adding these jobs will boost economic recovery, drive the US towards cleaner and more breathable air, and reduce the climate crisis.
Currently, the United States’ main objectives are to adhere to the Paris Climate Agreement, reduce carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions, and create new projects for clean energy. However, with a sped-up timeline, Biden can reverse the harmful changes from the Trump era while bringing the US to a healthy recovery on all fronts.
This path would put the US on par with other countries’ sustainable recovery plans, like Germany’s increase of funding for carbon initiatives and climate protection.
A Glimmer of Hope
If Biden’s countless executive orders are a sign, then the road ahead will be environmentally-focused. Though he already faces plenty of obstacles, taking faster and more effective action will bring about change on every level, even for the more arduous tasks ahead. Our moment to make up for lost time has arrived.
Featured image by: Flickr