President Biden should use all the tools at his disposal to avert further climate devastation while helping people recover from the pandemic.
Below, we’ve pulled out 25 key executive actions that Biden can take from Day One to protect and invest in communities, end the era of fossil fuel production, and #BuildBackFossilFree. Every action should come with strong labor standards to protect workers’ rights and be developed with meaningful consultation with Indigenous peoples, workers, frontline communities, and other affected constituencies.
Note: In January, President Biden's administration released many climate and environmentally-focused executive orders. We've updated this plan to reflect the action that has been taken so far.
Damaging or counterproductive
1. Protect and invest in the Black, Indigenous, Brown, and working-class communities that have borne the brunt of fossil fuel pollution and climate disaster.
Prevent pollution hotspots
Develop and advance a federal No Hotspots Policy to prevent disproportionate exposure to multiple sources of pollution in “hotspots,” particularly in communities of color.
Create a Climate and Environmental Equity Map and Screen
Establish a system to identify communities facing the heaviest pollution burdens, climate vulnerability, health disparities, and socioeconomic inequities, and screen all regulatory proposals and investments for equity impacts using this system.
On January 27, President Biden directed the Council of Environmental Quality to create a geospatial Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool and to publish annual reports and “interactive maps highlighting disadvantaged communities”.
President Biden also directed the Environmental Protection Agency, Depart of Justice, and Department of Health and Human Services to strengthen environmental justice protections. This executive order is a good first step. Still needed: Robust implementation and follow-through by the agencies involved.
Implement a fossil fuel moratorium for environmental justice communities
Halt new fossil fuel infrastructure, operations, and transport in and around environmental justice communities.
Address cumulative pollution impacts
Require cumulative pollution impact assessments of all applicable federal policies, regulations, and actions, in order to reduce disproportionate environmental impacts on over-polluted communities.
Strengthen the federal environmental justice mandate
Reaffirm and strengthen Executive Order 12898 on environmental justice, including expanding its scope to include climate change impacts, risks, and required mitigation for all identified adverse impacts, and establish a mandate to require that at least 40 percent of federal clean energy and climate investments are targeted for the most impacted communities.
On January 27, President Biden established the White House Environmental Justice Council, and tasked it with recommending updates to Executive Order 12898. President Biden also directed the Environmental Justice Council with making recommendations to direct 40% of “overall benefits” of certain federal investments go towards certain disadvantaged communities.
Still needed: Direct 40% of actual investments to disadvantaged communities, and sharpen the directions on updating EO 12898 as above.
Enshrine self-determination of Indigenous peoples
Institutionalize Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) to require consent of American Indian and Alaska Native tribes and Indigenous peoples regarding federal actions affecting their lands, livelihoods, culture, and spirituality.
On January 26, Joe Biden issued a Presidential Memorandum on Tribal Consultation and Strengthening Nation-to-Nation Relationships, reaffirming commitment to EO 13175 and Presidential Memorandum of November 5, 2009 requiring Tribal consultation and action plans. Still needed: This Memo mostly returns Federal practices with respect to Tribes to Obama-era precedents, and does not institute Free, Prior, and Informed Consent.
Reckon with the impacts of colonization
Establish a high-level commission to determine federal responsibility for the harms affecting American Indian and Alaska Native nations and peoples, and use this as the basis for policies and investments to remedy past harms and support self-determination for Indigenous clean energy transitions and economic development.
Prioritize co-pollutant reductions
Require that greenhouse gas emissions standards and related policies also prioritize and maximize reducing other pollutants in overburdened communities.
Set a national climate pollution standard
Establish a science-based, nation-wide, and economy-wide cap on greenhouse gas emissions to reduce climate pollution at the pace necessary to protect public health and welfare.
Regulate climate pollution sources
Set strict limits on greenhouse gas emissions from all stationary sources of pollution and from all modes of transportation, including vehicles, shipping, and aviation, as fast as possible.
2. Reject new fossil projects, eliminate giveaways to oil, gas, and coal corporations, and end the era of fossil fuel production.
Ban federal fossil fuel leasing
Ban new fossil fuel leases and permits on our public lands and waters, and phase out existing production as quickly as possible while protecting workers and communities.
On January 27, President Biden halted oil and gas leasing on federal lands and launched a “comprehensive review” of the entire fossil fuel leasing and permitting program, a historic and precedential step.
Still needed: Make the leasing pause permanent, halt to permitting on existing leases and plan to phase out all ongoing federal fossil fuel extraction with a just transition for workers and communities.
Reject climate-polluting projects
Reject all federal permits for fossil fuel and other climate-damaging infrastructure, including, but not limited to, the Keystone XL, Dakota Access, Line 3, and Mountain Valley Pipelines.
On January 20, President Biden revoked permits for the Keystone XL pipeline. Still needed: Revoke permits for Line 3, Dakota Access, Mountain Valley, and other major fossil fuel projects, and direct all federal agencies to deny permits for all new fossil fuel infrastructure and climate-polluting projects.
End fossil fuel subsidies
End fossil fuel subsidies, bailouts, and international finance and redirect funds to climate investments.
On January 27, President Biden directed agency heads to eliminate direct fossil fuel subsidies from their agencies, and for the Office of Management and Budget to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies from future budget requests to Congress. Still needed: Specify where current subsidies should be directed, and address indirect subsidies such as loan guarantees or research support.
Hold polluters accountable
Investigate and prosecute fossil fuel polluters for damages they have caused, and electric utilities for antitrust violations.
Prevent new polluter giveaways
Commit to veto legislation that would undermine climate action or environmental justice, including bills that grant legal immunity, new subsidies, or regulatory loopholes for polluting corporations to continue to harm our communities and environment, and bills that invest in technologies that would harm communities or perpetuate market-based mechanisms.
Ensure a just transition
Create an Interagency Just Transition Task Force to facilitate a well-managed phaseout of all fossil fuel production and guarantee support for affected workers and communities, including wage and tax base support, job training, and vocational opportunities.
On January 27, Joe Biden issued an executive order to create a new Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization.
The working group is set to “coordinate the identification and delivery of Federal resources to revitalize the economies of coal, oil and gas, and power plant communities”. Still needed: A task force that explicitly guarantees support for workers in a well-managed phaseout of all fossil fuel production, and robust follow-through by the agencies involved.
End fossil fuel exports
Reinstate the ban on crude oil exports under a national emergency declaration and halt fossil gas exports to the extent possible under existing law.
3. Launch a national climate mobilization to Build Back Fossil Free, delivering jobs, justice, and opportunity for all.
Declare a climate emergency
Declare a national emergency on the climate crisis and direct resources to build out clean, renewable, and distributed renewable energy
Establish an Office of Climate Mobilization
Create a new office and council to lead a national climate mobilization alongside federal agencies and state and local governments.
On January 27, Joe Biden issued an executive order to create the White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy.
The office is charged to “coordinate the policy-making process with respect to domestic climate-policy issues; coordinate domestic climate-policy advice to the President; ensure that domestic climate-policy decisions and programs are consistent with the President’s stated goals”. The order also created the National Climate Task Force of leaders from across the 21 federal agencies and departments. Still needed: Clarify the full scope and authority of this office.
Create a green infrastructure bank
Establish an institution to finance historic green infrastructure investments via loans, grants, equity, and other instruments.
Use green manufacturing to drive the 100% clean energy transition
Use the Defense Production Act to mobilize domestic production of clean energy, energy efficiency technologies, storage, smart grid infrastructure, and electric vehicles.
Transform all federal government operations to 100% clean energy by 2025
Direct all agencies, including federal utilities, to power their operations and facilities with 100% clean energy by 2025.
On January 27, Joe Biden issued an executive order directing the Council on Environmental Quality and other agency heads to make a plan to reach 100% carbon free electricity by 2035.
The order also directs agencies to procure carbon-pollution free zero-emission vehicles and for federal infrastructure investments to align with greenhouse gas emission reduction goals. Still needed: A timeline for federal agencies to transition to zero-emission vehicles, a definition of “carbon pollution-free” in line with science and justice, and specifics to address the operations and facilities of federal agencies.
Usher in an era of energy democracy
Drive energy democracy and green Rural America by financing distributed and community solar and wind power development.
Decarbonize and increase resilience of the buildings sector
Make retrofitting accessible and affordable for building managers and homeowners while creating millions of good jobs.
Make the U.S. a responsible world leader on global climate justice
Rejoin the Paris Agreement and commit the U.S. to reduce its fair share of emissions at the source, fulfill its “climate debt” to developing countries by increasing climate finance contributions, and call for binding safeguards under Article 6 to protect human rights and the right of Indigenous Peoples, including an effective grievance procedure and the prohibition of market-based mechanisms.
On January 27 Joe Biden signed an executive order for the U.S. to re-enter the Paris Agreement.
The executive order will build on the Agreement’s objectives to promote a “significant increase” in global ambition, and develop the United States’ “nationally determined contribution” – our emission reduction target under the Paris Agreement. Still needed: Set and finalize U.S. emission targets in line with its fair share of emissions at the source, rule out international market-based mechanisms, and commit the U.S. to human rights protections.