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Biden Day Six – Biden Executive Order - Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad

January 27, 2021

Earlier today President Biden signed an executive order that established a White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy and outlined a framework for involving the entire federal government and engaging the international community in combatting climate change.

At a ceremony before he signed the executive order, President Biden said these actions are needed to meet his goal of transforming the U.S. economy to net zero emissions by 2050 while rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure and creating new jobs to take advantage of the country’s transition to a clean-energy economy. The executive order establishes the National Climate Task Force, composed of more than 20 department heads and other senior officials, which is responsible for ensuring agencies across the government are prioritizing climate change in their decision-making and budget processes.

International Focus

The executive order frames the U.S. government’s response to climate change as central to its foreign policy and national security. The order establishes the position of Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, begins the process of developing an updated “nationally determined contribution” pursuant to the Paris Agreement and calls on the State Department to prepare to submit to the Senate the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol.

The executive order also targets the role of the United States in providing financial support to international activities and states that government agencies must take into account the effect such support has on international efforts for fighting climate change, protecting carbon sinks such as the Amazon rain forest, in helping developing countries reduce emissions, and in identifying ways to end financing for fossil fuel based energy projects by the Export-Import Bank and the International Development Finance Corporation. The executive order also announced that that President Biden will host a climate focused summit of international leaders. 

Energy Development and Conservation

The executive order directs the Department of the Interior to halt issuing new leases for oil and gas on federal lands and offshore waters to the extent possible, to review the department’s permitting and leasing practices for fossil fuels, and to identify steps to double energy production from offshore wind by the end of the decade. In an explanatory statement issued in conjunction with the executive order, the White House states that its directive does not affect ongoing oil and gas drilling activities, including through the use of hydraulic fracturing, on valid existing leases and that the Interior Department is continuing to process permits and allow development of valid existing leases. Notably, the executive order does not halt leases for coal from federal lands. However, the executive order calls on the Office of Management and Budget to seek to eliminate subsidies for the fossil fuel industry beginning with the FY 2022 budget request.

The Secretary of the Interior is tasked with reviewing the siting and permitting processes for renewable energy production with goal of doubling offshore wind development by the end of the decade.

The executive order establishes a goal of conserving at least 30 percent of federal lands and waters by 2030, and calls on the National Climate Task Force to prepare a report within 90 days, working in conjunction with farmers, fisherman, and local and tribal government officials, on how to achieve this goal. The Secretary of Agriculture is also directed to submit a report within 90 days making recommendations for an agriculture and forestry strategy.

Economic Development and Environmental Justice

The executive order states that environmental justice is integral to the government’s work to address climate change and that it is the policy of the United States to promote economic opportunity for disadvantaged communities that have historically been affected by environmental pollution. The executive order establishes an interagency task force on environmental justice and directs the Environmental Protection Agency to “strengthen enforcement of environmental violations with disproportionate impact on underserved communities.” The executive order announces the creation of the “Justice40 Initiative” with a goal of directing 40 percent of the benefits of federal investments to disadvantaged communities.

The executive order establishes a policy to use the federal government’s purchasing power to address climate change and to incentivize the private sector to invest in renewable energy and the underlying materials and technology needed to support the transition away from fossil fuels. For example, the executive order calls for a plan to achieve carbon pollution-free energy sector by 2035 and zero emissions vehicles for government fleets, including the post office.

The executive order also calls on agencies to apply and enforce the Davis-Bacon Act and prevailing wages in making federal procurement decisions and that agencies should adhere to the executive order issued January 25, 2021, entitled “Ensuring the Future is Made in All of America by All of America’s Workers.”

The executive order also establishes a Civilian Climate Corps under the auspices of the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture to promote career opportunities in conservation, mitigating the effects of climate change, and supporting biodiversity.

Other Actions

President Biden also issued a memorandum today on the importance of scientific integrity and the need to protect government scientists from political interference. He also signed an executive order re-establishing the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. 

For more information, please contact the professional(s) listed below, or your regular Crowell & Moring contact.

Byron R. Brown
Senior Counsel – Washington, D.C.
Phone: +1.202.624.2546
Amanda Shafer Berman
Partner – Washington, D.C.
Phone: +1.202.688.3451
Thomas A. Lorenzen
Partner – Washington, D.C.
Phone: +1.202.624.2789