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, we’re keeping you up-to-date on everything you need to know from Day One to 2024.
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).
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.
Photograph by Mark Wilson/Getty Images
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.
Photograph by Robert Alexander/Getty Images
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
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.
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.
Photograph by Spencer Platt/Getty Images
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.
Photograph by Erik McGregor/LightRocket/Getty Images
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.
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.
Photograph by John Coletti/Getty Images