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Participant holding a sign at the climate march. A coalition of climate, Indigenous and racial justice groups gathered at Columbus Circle to kick off Climate Week with the Climate Justice Through Racial Justice march. (Photo: Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Not Just 'Build Back Better': Climate Groups Call on Biden to 'Build Back Fossil Free'

"Biden can take the bold action we need on Day One, including immediately ending new fossil fuel permits and project approvals and declaring a climate emergency to ignite our clean and democratic energy revolution."

Julia Conley

Demanding far-reaching policies to keep more fossil fuels in the ground and ramp up the renewable energy transition, a coalition of environmental, racial, and economic justice groups launched a new campaign Thursday calling on President-elect Joe Biden to go beyond his vague campaign pledge to "build back better" from the coronavirus pandemic and its corresponding recession.

To ensure a lasting recovery and a sustainable economy, the organizations said, Biden must "Build Back Fossil Free"—something he can do largely without the help of the U.S. Congress, through dozens of executive actions he can take as soon as he is inaugurated on January 20. 

At the Build Back Fossil Free campaign's website, which went live early Thursday morning, groups including, Greenpeace, Indivisible, and the Center for Biological Diversity explain that Biden's executive actions must focus on undoing the damage caused by decades of environmental racism and injustice and the extraction of fossil fuels. 

"Mr. President-elect, you should use all the tools at your disposal to avert further climate devastation while helping people recover from the pandemic," the organizations, which represent millions of advocates across the country, wrote. "That means using your executive authority from Day One to:

  • Protect and invest in the Black, Indigenous, Brown, and working-class communities that have borne the brunt of fossil fuel pollution and climate disaster.
  • End the era of fossil fuel production, reject fossil fuel projects, and eliminate giveaways to oil, gas, and coal corporations.
  • Launch a national climate mobilization to Build Back Fossil Free, delivering jobs, justice, and opportunity for all."

As many progressives have said since Biden decisively won the presidential election on November 3—with the help of get-out-the-vote efforts by progressive lawmakers including Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and grassroots organizers at the Sunrise Movement, all of whom backed Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in the Democratic primary—Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris owe far-reaching climate action "to the communities that elected them," said campaign manager Jenny Marienau Zimmer.

"Indian Country showed up for Joe Biden," tweeted the Indigenous Environmental Network. "With a stroke of a pen, he can use executive power to show up for Indian Country."

"There can be no just transition without keeping fossil fuels in the ground. As fossil fuel companies attempt to push forward toxic and unnecessary pipelines like Line 3 and KXL, we seek a just transition that stops fossil fuel extraction, makes fossil fuel companies pay for damages, and restores the self-determination of impacted Black, Indigenous, communities of color, and working-class communities," Zimmer said. "We are throwing all into holding them to their promises of a renewable, regenerative economy that puts our health and safety first."

The Build Back Fossil Free website outlines 25 executive actions Biden can take immediately upon entering office, including:

  • Declaring a national emergency on the climate crisis and direct resources to build out clean, renewable, and distributed renewable energy-Developing and advancing a federal No Hotspots Policy to prevent disproportionate exposure to multiple sources of pollution in “hotspots,” particularly in communities of color, which are more likely than white communities to face harmful emissions in their neighborhoods.
  • Institutionalizing 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.
  • Establishing a science-based, nationwide, and economy-wide cap on greenhouse gas emissions to reduce climate pollution at the pace necessary to protect public health and welfare.
  • Setting 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.
  • Banning 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.
  • Rejecting 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.
  • Ending fossil fuel subsidies, bailouts, and international finance and redirect funds to climate investments.
  • Creating 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.
  • Establishing a green infrastructure bank to finance historic green infrastructure investments via loans, grants, equity, and other instruments.
  • Using the Defense Production Act to mobilize domestic production of clean energy, energy efficiency technologies, storage, smart grid infrastructure, and electric vehicles. 

The Build Back Fossil Free campaign was launched after other calls for Biden to make use of his executive authority, particularly if the Republican Party retains control of the U.S. Senate. Control of the chamber will be determined on January 5 in two runoff elections in Georgia. 

More than 380 groups on Wednesday demanded that Biden declare a climate emergency on his first day as president. Last month, journalist David Dayen also made the case for the president-elect to sign an executive order to provide Medicare coverage to everyone in the country due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

With or without the Senate, the Center for Biological Diversity said, Biden has a clear "political mandate" to be a "climate president." Polls taken just before the election by the New York Times and Siena College showed that 90% of voters who planned to support Biden were concerned about the climate crisis, while just 23% of President Donald Trump's supporters cited the planetary emergency as a concern.

"Bedrock environmental laws like the Clean Air Act, as well as the National Emergencies Act, empower the president to act immediately to prevent climate catastrophe and protect communities," said Jean Su, an attorney and director of the Center for Biological Diversity's Energy Justice program. "Biden can take the bold action we need on Day One, including immediately ending new fossil fuel permits and project approvals and declaring a climate emergency to ignite our clean and democratic energy revolution."

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