On Wednesday January 20th America started writing a new chapter in the nation’s long and storied history. On day one new U.S. President Joe Biden began dismantling the failed legacy of his predecessor. Within hours of being inaugurated Biden rejoined the Paris accord, killed the Keystone XL pipeline and ended drilling in the Artic wildlife refuge. Biden undid his predecessors regulatory approval process and instructed the OMB director to develop recommendations to modernize regulatory review. Biden has also taken executive actions designed to depoliticize the Justice Department. Going forward all executive branch appointees must sign an ethics pledge barring them from acting in personal interest and requiring them to uphold the independence of the Department of Justice. As a demonstration of the central role of science in this administration Biden announced that his presidential science advisor will be elevated to a cabinet level position. This gives science a seat at the table for all major policy discussions.
In all Biden signed 17 executive orders, memorandums and directives. They focus on the pandemic, equity, immigration and climate change. In his inaugural address Biden gave voice to the urgent need for climate action when he said, “A cry for survival comes from planet itself. A cry that can’t be any more desperate or any more clear”.
In addition to rejoining the Paris climate accord, Biden intends to convene a “world summit” that will work on ratcheting up the climate ambitions agreed to in 2015. He revoked a presidential permit for the Keystone and he has suspended Artic drilling. He also began the process of reversing a long list of his predecessors environmental rules. Biden’s press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters these efforts are only part of what will be a series of moves to undo the policies of the previous administration and implement Biden’s campaign promises.
Biden’s actions on his first day in office are a reflection of his campaign promises. Before the inauguration, White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain wrote a memo which read, “During the campaign, President-elect Biden pledged to take immediate action to start addressing these crises and build back better…As president, he will keep those promises…Of course, these actions are just the start of our work,” Klain writes. “Much more will need to be done to fight COVID-19, build our economy back better, combat systemic racism and inequality, and address the existential threat of the climate crisis. But by February 1st, America will be moving in the right direction on all four of these challenges.”
Biden will reinstate or improve upon many of the environmental protections and climate actions that were killed by his predecessor. He can reverse some of these with the stroke of a pen. However, some changes, like new rules for power plants, will take time. Reinstating California’s waiver that allows the state to set stricter vehicular pollution standards could take months and it will take even longer to undo Trump era rules on methane emissions, carbon pollution and protected waters.
At the same time as the Biden administration rebuilds the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) they will rewrite agency rules and make them even stricter than they were in 2016. Many changes to EPA rules written by former administrator Scott Pruitt can easily be repealed and replaced because they neglected to include rational justifications. As laid out by the Biden campaign before the election, their environmental efforts will focus on reducing emissions and incentivizing investments in clean energy. The two trillion dollar Building Back Better plan is at the center of Biden’s strategy.
After he passes immigration reform and once the virus is under control, Biden is expected to embark on ambitious climate legislation that will advance both efficiency and renewable energy. These rules and legislation must be carefully crafted or they risk being overturned by a conservative Supreme Court.
Biden acknowledged the magnitude of the task that lies ahead in his inaugural speech when he said, “We’ll press forward with speed and urgency, for we have much to do in this winter of peril and significant possibilities. Much to repair, much to restore, much to heal, much to build, and much to gain. Few people in our nation’s history have been more challenged or found a time more challenging or difficult than the time we’re in now.”
Despite the competence and determination of the Biden administration, they cannot ignore the sheer magnitude of the problems they face. As Klain said three days before the inauguration “we’re inheriting a huge mess here” but he added “we have a plan to fix it”.
Towards the end of his inaugural speech Biden called on Americans to join him in fixing the nation. “Are we going to step up, all of us? It’s time for boldness, for there is so much to do. And this is certain. I promise you, we will be judged, you and I, by how we resolve these cascading crises of our era. We will rise to the occasion, is the question. Will we master this rare and difficult hour? Will we meet our obligations, and pass along a new and better world to our children?” Biden asked, then he answered, “I believe we must. I’m sure you do as well. I believe we will. And when we do, we’ll write the next great chapter in the history of the United States of America.”
Americans are at a crossroads where they are called to choose hope over fear, unity over division, and light over darkness. Biden is betting that the vast majority of Americans will choose the path of decency, dignity, love and healing. As 22 year old Youth Poet Laurate Amanda Gorman so eloquently said when she recited her inauguration poem, Americans are called to “leave behind a country better than the one we were left”