Illustration by Tyler Spangler
President Joe Biden has introduced a lot of policy for climate change, including reversing Trump-era rollbacks and introducing fresh legislation that could turn back the clock on a fragile environment. Here’s your guide to the first six months of Biden on climate.
Over the past four years, the Trump administration made good on its word that it was “open-minded” to the environment—that is, open-minded to new (and old) ways to dismantle any Obama-era progress that sought to preserve and defend it. To date, 84 environmental statutes have been reversed or rolled back under Donald Trump with 20 more in progress. But the upcoming Biden-Harris administration has similarly ambitious goals to not only reverse Trump’s damage but take action on a climate that science warns is soon to expire.
What happens next is crucial to the survival of the planet, which is why we’re tracking every step (and potential misstep) of America’s greener future. We’ll be refreshing this page with significant updates to proposed climate policies, so if you’re ever looking for Biden’s record on climate—from rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement to ending offshore drilling and more—you can always check in here.
President Joe Biden offers a new sense of hope for voters who were swayed by climate during the last election. Exit polls indicated that 67 percent of voters consider climate change a serious threat. Though Biden plans to do everything but ban fossil fuels—via executive order or otherwise—the next four years may be our last bet at a cleaner energy future and addressing environmental injustice in legitimate, lasting ways.
As we embark on the next chapter of climate legislation, we’ll keep you up to speed on the Biden-Harris administration’s plans to let science and frontline communities reroute the path forward on climate change—from Day One to 2024.
*+ = Latest update
Rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement
In a short and sweet statement, Biden re-affirmed the U.S. commitment to uphold the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. This should help signal a unified global effort to address Earth’s rising temperatures. While the agreement does not call for nearly the level of action necessary to prevent global wreckage, it’s much better than the alternative (nothing).
+ On Thursday, April 22, at a virtual Earth Day summit of 40 world leaders, Biden pledged to cut United States greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 as a recommitment to the Paris Agreement. It’s a commitment that would nearly double the nation’s former 2005 goals. The change would require Biden to make good on his other proposals to completely overhaul the nation’s power and transportation sectors, from renewable energy to solar and wind power.
Photograph by Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Establish a working group on the social cost of carbon
To help make the U.S. a global leader on the impacts our carbon pollution is having, Biden has created this working group. In his detailed executive order released January 20, the president outlines that this group will work to measure the costs associated with carbon, methane, and nitrous oxide emissions. That way, the U.S. can clearly show the benefits of reducing all these forms of pollution. Clever.
+ Biden’s national climate adviser Gina McCarthy announced that the administration is re-establishing an interagency working group (IWG) to determine the price of carbon and is raising the price from a Trump low of $8 per ton to an Obama-era $51 per ton. That number, which will no doubt have an impact on policies regulating industry and energy production, could be raised up to $125. The IWG has been tasked with calculating an updated number by January 2022.
Photograph by Florian Stern
Reaffirm the climate crisis as a national security priority
Biden has revived and strengthened Obama-era work that established climate as a national security priority. Trump undid much of this, but Biden has strengthened this space through his January 27 executive order. He has chosen John Kerry as the inaugural Special Presidential Envoy for Climate who will play an international role in centering climate in foreign policy. Intelligence agencies will now have to incorporate climate change into analyses of national security threats. In other words, the government will now be more equipped to plan for natural threats and disasters.
Photograph by Diada/Flickr
Establish National Climate Task Force to address greenhouse gases
President Biden made good on his word from the campaign trail and created the National Climate Task Force through his January 27 climate executive order, bringing together leaders from 21 agencies and departments to ensure everyone is working in tandem to reduce national greenhouse gas emissions. This sets the U.S. on path to becoming an international leader in climate.
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Assess financial risks from climate crisis
Through an executive order the president signed May 20, 2021, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will have to begin a process to assess what impacts the climate crisis may have on private and public financial assets in the U.S. The federal government will release a report outlining the findings to help prepare for the risks ahead. The goal is to make communities more resilient to the climate crisis by taking a look at structures like insurance policies, pension funds, and life savings to make sure they don’t take a negative hit as the planet heats up. The same goes for the federal government’s budget and costs.
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Cancel the Keystone XL pipeline
In a sweeping executive order issued on Day One, Biden revoked the presidential permit Trump gave the project some four years ago. This section clarifies America’s clean energy revolution that the new president is kicking off, which requires weaning ourselves off fossil fuels. There’s no mention of the tribal sovereign nations that have been at the forefront of this effort, but we know they are to thank.
Photograph by Lorie Shaull/Flickr
Direct all federal agencies to undo Trump’s environmental damage
Biden is playing no games. One of his first actions—“Executive Order on Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis”—explicitly directs all heads of federal departments and agencies to ensure their orders, regulations, policies, and everything in between center public health, our environment, and a national effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It includes language on building standards, methane emissions, air pollution, and job creation. Impressive. This is in line with what he outlined in his campaign’s climate plan.
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Ban oil, coal, and gas leases and permits on U.S. land and waters
Just one day after Joe Biden signed his first executive order on the environment, acting Interior Secretary Scott de la Vega signed another Trump-reversal policy that takes climate change head-on: a 60-day suspension of new oil and gas leasing and drilling permits on U.S. lands and waters. The pros? It applies to coal, too, and blocks the approval of new mining plans (a blow to Republican efforts to boost fossil fuel production). The cons? It still doesn’t ban new drilling outright.
+ A full week after taking office, Biden has moved to permanently ban oil and gas leases on federal lands. This began as a temporary move on Day Two, but he’s now doing what he can to make this ban as permanent as possible. Through his new executive order on January 27, Biden is directing the Secretary of the Interior to pause new oil and gas leases and determine how to increase clean energy production on these lands, instead.
Photograph courtesy Recond Oil
Invest in offshore wind projects and jobs
On March 29, 2021, the administration announced it was pushing forward on a massive expansion of offshore wind development off the coast of Long Island, New York. The administration also established a target of generating 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030. For context, the pipeline for offshore wind energy was less than 30 gigawatts at the end of 2019. That includes projects still receiving permitting and planning, so only one offshore wind farm is online at the moment, per the Washington Post. This is an ambitious move by the Biden administration that shows its commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In total, they hope to create employment opportunities for some 77,000 workers by 2030.
+ On May 11, 2021, the Biden administration officially approved the Vineyard Wind project, the United States’ first commercial offshore wind farm. The project aims to install 84 turbines in two locations: off the coast of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, Mass. Now that it has the government’s stamp of approval, the farm is expected to be operational as soon as 2023. It is projected to generate 800 megawatts of electricity—enough for roughly 400,000 homes—representing an important first step toward the administration’s goal to produce 30,000 megawatts of offshore wind by 2030.
+ On May 25, 2021, the Biden administration and California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that they are selecting two areas off the coast of California for offshore wind development. Yet another step toward Biden’s goal of 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030, these areas would become the first offshore wind sites off the West Coast, which has previously not been a focus of development due to deep waters and military activity, according to the Washington Post. Together, these two spots could generate up to 4.6 gigawatts of energy—enough power for 1.6 million American homes.
Photograph by Jonathan Cutrer / Flickr
The $2 trillion infrastructure plan
On March 31, 2021, the Biden administration unveiled a $2 trillion proposal set to improve infrastructure and transition the U.S. economy over to green energy throughout the next eight years. The plan, though not large enough in scope to some Democrats, is set to be one of the largest federal efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions on record. It includes, but is not limited to: $174 billion to boost the electric car market (that’s also half a million charging stations across the country by 2030), $115 million for modernizing 20,000 miles of highways and roads (and repairing 10,000 bridges), $85 billion toward public transit, $100 billion to update the nation’s electric grid, and more. It also calls on Congress to invest $35 billion in research and climate change technology to create green energy jobs like carbon capture/storage and offshore wind.
Biden refers to the American Jobs Plan as “a once-in-a-generation investment in America.”
Photograph courtesy Getty Images
End border wall construction
In a proclamation issued on his first day of office—January 20—Biden called the border wall “a waste of money” and ended the national emergency Trump declared at the border. With this, he ended all funding of border wall construction, which has destroyed ecosystems and sacred ancestral lands. This is a key first step to centering human rights in the U.S. immigration strategy.
Photograph courtesy Flickr
Restore national monuments
Hello, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments! Biden’s Day One environmental executive order created a path for the redesignation of these monuments’ original boundaries. (The president also included Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument in this section.) Trump’s restructuring of Bears Ears was an especially big hit to tribal nations in the Utah region that worked closely with former President Barack Obama to formalize the monument. Its redesignation shows Biden’s commitment to ensuring Indigenous peoples help manage public lands.
Photograph courtesy Bureau of Land Management
Temporarily halt oil and gas leasing in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
Though the GOP forced fossil fuel drilling in this area through its 2017 tax bill, Biden is delaying the process as much as he can through this executive order. He has directed the Attorney General to request courts currently litigating on the issue to pause the current lawsuits.
Photograph by Kiliii Yuyan
Protect 30 percent of public lands and waters by 2030
Though this was expected on Day One, Biden made this a reality on January 27. As part of a scientifically supported effort to protect the planet’s biodiversity and natural carbon sinks, Biden signed an executive order that launched a process to bring together different stakeholders in this arena: agricultural and forest landowners, tribal nations, anglers, and local communities. Conserving this much land and water won’t be easy, but it’ll be necessary to address the severity of our planet’s warming.
+ On May 6, 2021, the administration released a report called “America the Beautiful” where they outline how they will make this plan a reality. The report calls out the importance of having local groups lead these initiatives, but as the Washington Post states, the plan is pretty vague. It doesn’t include any specific areas to protect or how much money is necessary to see this through. However, the administration has created six priority areas that include building more parks and incentivizing conservation among industry players like fishers and farmers. There is a nod to the critical role Indigenous people play in protecting land—as well as to the racist history of conservation—but few specifics on how the government plans to support them in this work.
Photograph by Chris Weber/Flickr
Establish a Civilian Climate Corps
This was originally an idea from Washington Governor Jay Inslee when he was running for president, but we’re seeing the Biden administration bring it forward. In his January 27 executive order, he formally established the initiative to put Americans to work on restoration and agriculture projects that can better support biodiversity and carbon sequestration efforts.
Photograph by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Create a working group for fossil fuel workers
When we talk about a just transition, we’re also talking about the fossil fuel workers who got left behind. As part of Biden’s promise to center workers in his climate approach, he established this working group in his January 27 executive order. It directs federal agencies to develop a plan to invest in coal, oil, and gas communities that will likely suffer economically in the transition to clean energy. This group should help prevent any negative impacts from this shift.
Photograph by Steve Nehf/The Denver Post/Getty Images
Establish two justice-focused councils
The White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council and White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council are finally here. In his January 27 executive order, Biden is following through on his promise to center communities of color and low-income communities in his climate plans. These councils aim to make sure these vulnerable communities are not excluded from the various agencies doing environmental work. More importantly, they aim to better enforce environmental justice monitoring so these communities can stop becoming sacrifice zones.
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Create the Justice40 Initiative
Biden said that 40 percent of the federal investments on climate would be earmarked for vulnerable communities. Well, this initiative is set to ensure that happens. In his January 27 executive order, he outlines that the initiative will do this through an Environmental Justice Scorecard that tracks progress.
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Begin development of the Climate and Environmental Justice Screening Tool
If you’ve never used the EPA’s EJSCREEN, you should definitely check it out. It allows you to search your zip code to see what polluters are nearby. And Biden wants to build on it by creating a screening tool that more clearly identifies environmental justice communities and helps feed into the implementation of the Justice40 Initiative. This also came out of his January 27 executive order.
Photograph by Tony Webster/Flickr
Direct the Agriculture Secretary to improve this sector
At the heart of justice is people. As part of ensuring farmers and ranchers have a seat at the table, Biden is directing the Secretary of Agriculture to collect input from these key stakeholders on how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from our current food production practices. The goal, outlined in this January order, is to create more job opportunities while creating new carbon sinks both naturally and through technological advances in the agricultural sector.
Photograph by Brad Covington/Flickr
Center scientific integrity in policy
The Trump administration tried to erase evidence-based policy making, which largely affected air pollution studies used to justify regulating polluters. Through a presidential memorandum, the president is cementing the pivotal role science plays in protecting public health and preventing climate disaster. Scientists need protection and support if they’re to do the critical work in giving us new information.
Photograph by Tyler Hewitt/Flickr
Include climate migrants in refugee order
There’s no international legal framework for climate refugees, but that didn’t stop the Biden administration from including this critical group in its February 4 executive order to welcome some 125,000 refugees by the next fiscal year. The order directs several federal agencies to prepare a report on climate change’s impacts on migration and displacement. Finally, we may have a plan to help impacted global communities.
Photograph by Balogh David/EyeEm
Reinstate Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership program
Acting Secretary of the Interior Scott de la Vega rescinded a late Trump-era order that eliminated the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership program, which was designed to provide larger grants to more urban areas that lack park access. By reinstating the ORLP program—during a time when we need access to nature more than ever—President Biden shows he’s serious about creating outdoor policies for Black and brown communities.
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Punish a dirty refinery in St. Croix
On March 25, 2021, EPA Administrator Michael Regan withdrew a key permit for Limetree Bay Refining, a polluting oil refinery in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. The Washington Post deemed this move “the administration’s most significant step yet in a campaign to ensure environmental justice.” While this won’t immediately shut down the refinery, this permit revocation should help better regulate the facility and protect the communities that live nearby.
+ On May 14, 2021, the EPA issued an emergency order to shut down the refinery after it rained oil…again. The ongoing pollution threatened public health, as well as the waterways the island communities rely on. The smell alone during these events is enough to leave individuals nauseous, according to the EPA itself.
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Cut the use of hydrofluorocarbons
The EPA announced May 3, 2021, it would decrease the production and imports of hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, by 85 percent over the next 15 years. These are potent greenhouse gases that leak out of refrigerators and air conditioners. Global emissions have, unfortunately, been on the rise despite goals to drastically cut them, according to a 2020 Nature study. The U.S. hopes this reduction can help avoid up to 0.5 degree Celsius warming by 2100—and help keep safe the most vulnerable populations to rising temperatures.
Photograph courtesy Geography Photos / Getty Images
$1 billion for hurricane preparation
On May 24, 2021, the president announced he was doubling the amount of funding to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities program. While this is double what the federal government had previously invested in disaster preparedness during hurricane season, it’s still nowhere near to what’s needed, reports the Washington Post. Forty percent of the money will go toward disadvantaged communities, underscoring the administration’s commitment to serving communities of color and low-income communities.
Photograph by Scott Kelly / NASA / Getty Images