January 28, 2021

By Ramona du Houx

The Earth is careening toward a man-made climate catastrophe unless we transition from fossil fuels to a clean energy economy. Thankfully, President Joseph R. Biden recognizes the climate emergency we are living in. His executive actions (EOs) and directives to combat climate change, on January 27, brings a whole-of-government approach to the crisis. All of his climate-focused policies aimed at ending carbon pollution from power plants by 2035, reaching a national net-zero economy by 2050 and empowering communities that have been disproportionately affected by emissions have been enthusiastically embraced by the Elected Officials to Protect America (EOPA).

“Many climate and health calamities are colliding all at once. It’s not just the pandemic that keeps people inside; it’s poor air quality. Multiple studies have shown that air pollution is associated with an increased risk of death from COVID-19. And just like we need a unified national response to COVID-19, we desperately need a unified national response to the climate crisis because there is a climate crisis,” said the President, during the EO announcement.

President Biden also said that the Defense Department reported that climate change is a direct threat to more than two thirds of the military’s operational critical installations. Because of his EO, from now on climate change will be an integral core component of all US foreign policy and national security decisions.

“These Executive Orders will help with a just transition for America to a clean energy economy by creating new good-paying union jobs, addressing income inequality, and ensuring all communities have access to economic opportunities. These initiatives signal the return of the United States as a global leader on climate,” said Elected Officials to Protect America President, former Marine combat veteran, and Maine State Legislator Alex Cornell du Houx. “On the world stage, knowing this administration underscores and understands that climate change is a threat multiplier is critical. With former Secretary of State John Kerry heading up the international effort addressing the climate crisis world leaders know that we will take appropriate actions to combat climate change.”

President Biden has made Kerry his Special Presidential Envoy for Climate.

Climate change will be integrated into the decision-making by every government agency, and puts environmental justice at the heart of America’s policy agenda. The creation of a White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council and a White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council will help clean up communities disproportionately affected by pollution, as all government agencies must ensure that 40 percent of climate investment benefits are targeted to communities of color and economically disadvantaged communities.

As a result of outright discrimination in housing, zoning and economic opportunity, people of color and low-income people are more likely to live near power plants, incinerators, ports, refineries, oil and gas facilities, factories and other hubs of toxic pollution. These frontline “fence” communities are at greater risk to respiratory illnesses, cancer and premature births.

“President Biden not only recognizes that for too long our government has contributed to discrimination and environmental injustice, now he’s taking bold action to right these wrongs that have tarnished America’s soul,” said former New York Assistant Assemblyman Speaker Félix W. Ortiz, EOPA National Leadership Council Member, Army Veteran (Ret). “This puts America on the path towards addressing the pollution that has been unjustly concentrated in communities of color and low-income. President Biden has stepped up to the plate to repair these injustices, while he builds back better. These are historic and welcome actions.”

President Biden mentioned “cancer alley” in his remarks, saying he wants to clean up toxic areas where communities of color and low income live thereby starting to right the wrongs of environmental racism.

With our economy reeling from the impacts of COVID-19 an economic stimulus is a priority, EOPA has repeatedly said that transitioning to a clean energy economy will help jumpstart the economy while providing good union jobs and long term sustainable economic growth. The Biden administration’s actions show they are in agreement. They also announced that the United States will host an international climate change summit on Earth Day, April 22.

“In his first week in office, President Biden has created avenues for clean energy jobs, protected our natural resources, addressed environmental injustice and let the world know America intends to lead in addressing the climate crisis by rejoining the 2015 Paris Agreement. Now, Congress must meet these opportunities by working with the Biden administration to make the investments necessary to create millions of good-paying, union clean energy jobs,” said Oregon State Representative Major Paul L. Evans USAF (Ret.), EOPA National Co-Chair. 

In his January 27 executive orders, a new directive sets out the goal of conserving 30 percent of all federal lands and waters by 2030. The new Climate Corps will create new jobs to restore public lands and waters and address the changing climate. An indefinite moratorium on new oil and gas leases on federal lands and in federal waters will be in place while leasing programs are evaluated. Federal agencies are directed to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies and identify new ways to support the development and deployment of clean energy technologies and infrastructure. A presidential memorandum directs agencies to use the best available science and data to make evidence-based decisions free from improper political interference.

The federal government will purchase clean and zero-emission vehicles for Federal, State, local, and Tribal government fleets, including the vehicles of the United States Postal Service thereby helping to create union jobs in the auto industry.

Leaky oil and gas wells will be capped, establishing avenues for jobs in a just transition. The Executive Order section pertaining to this read: “Plugging leaks in oil and gas wells and reclaiming abandoned mine land can create well-paying union jobs in coal, oil, and gas communities while restoring natural assets, revitalizing recreation economies, and curbing methane emissions. In addition, such work should include efforts to turn properties idled in these communities, such as brownfields, into new hubs for the growth of our economy.”

Some of the measures of Biden’s climate action agenda will need the backing of Congress, like ending fossil fuel subsidies. “Unlike previous administrations, I don’t think the federal government should give handouts to big oil to the tune of $40 billion in fossil fuel subsidies. And I’m going to be going to the Congress asking them to eliminate those subsidies,” said the President.

However, the fossil fuel industry has deep pockets and continues to make donations to members of Congress from all parties. That’s why EOPA urges President Biden to use his emergency powers to declare a National Climate Emergency. Such a measure would grant the President more flexibility to make sure key components of his plan happen.

“If Congress fails to meet its obligations, I hope President Biden will declare a National Climate Emergency and use the necessary powers afforded him to complete the mission at hand, combating climate change,” said Oregon State Representative Major Paul L. Evans USAF (Ret.), EOPA National Co-Chair. 

It’s an idea that the Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he’d called on President Biden to “explore” during an interview on MSNBC‘s  Rachel Maddow on January 24. “Now, Trump used this emergency for a stupid wall, which wasn’t an emergency,” said Schumer. “But if there ever was an emergency, climate is one. So, I would suggest that they explore looking at climate as an emergency.”

When Biden announced his latest round of environmental orders he said, “In my view, we’ve already waited too long to deal with this climate crisis. We can’t wait any longer … It’s time to act.”

EOPA is urging him to take the larger step to declare a National Climate Emergency if Congress won’t back his necessary economically sound climate plans. Already over 170 elected officials from across America have signed a EOPA National Climate Emergency letter asking the President to take action on climate.

“A National Climate Emergency Declaration, at an opportune time, will leave no doubt that America is leading the fight against the climate crisis. As the President said, ‘it’s time to act,’” said Elected Officials to Protect America President, former Marine combat veteran, and Maine State Legislator Alex Cornell du Houx. 

Back in July of 2020, EOPA asked the federal government to enact a stimulus plan to help recover from the deepening recession aimed at building back the economy on the basis of clean energy. We suggested that the plan should be an enhanced version of President Barack Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009. The ARRA package included $90 billion in clean energy investments and tax incentives, and was implemented by then Vice President Biden. On January 27,2021, President Biden referred to the ARRA in his remarks, saying his new plan takes a “plank” from the ARRA.

Over the past weekend the New York Times, ran an letter ad, signed by more than 150 world leaders, activists, CEOs, elected officials, NGO leaders, current and former government officials, and other public figure, encouraging President Biden to be the “climate president” who rises to the urgency of this moment by exercising “bold leadership” to address the climate crisis. EOPA recognizes Biden’s bold actions to date. 

“A National Climate Emergency Declaration would be received worldwide as a position of strength and leadership showing the dedication of the United States to meet the climate crisis with the full force of our Executive Branch,” said New Mexican State Representative Debbie Sariñana, Air Force Veteran, EOPA National Co-Chair. “President Biden has already taken historic steps forward in the mission to fight the climate crisis, in just a week. He, like every grandparent, wants to build a better future for his grandchildren. I believe he’ll take the necessary step and declare a Climate Emergency at the right time.”

Biden’s previous week’s executive orders rescinded the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, halted new oil/gas developments in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, ordered a freeze and review of Trump regulations that rolled back vehicle emissions standards, and rejoined the 2015 Paris Agreement.