Activists gather for the fifth day of the "People vs. Fossil Fuels" protests in Washington, D.C. on October 15, 2021.

Activists gather for the fifth day of the "People vs. Fossil Fuels" protests in Washington, D.C. on October 15, 2021. (Photo: Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Groups Give Biden 10 Executive Actions to Put 'People Over Fossil Fuels'

"The future of life on Earth depends on whether Biden will use his powers or surrender to a fossil-fueled catastrophe," said one advocate.

A coalition of progressive advocacy groups on Thursday released a checklist of 10 executive actions that U.S. President Joe Biden can take to put "people over fossil fuels."

"Biden should... take out his presidential pen and deliver on his climate promises."

The Build Back Fossil Free coalition--composed of hundreds of social and environmental justice organizations--detailed several steps that Biden can take immediately to confront the climate crisis.

In a statement, the coalition explained that it "is specifically calling on the administration to use the upcoming State of the Union on March 1st to lay out a bold new climate agenda that can't be stopped by fossil fuel apologists in Congress."

Biden, the coalition said, should take the following executive actions on behalf of people and the planet:

  1. Reject all new fossil fuel projects;
  2. Declare a climate emergency;
  3. End fossil fuel production on public lands and waters;
  4. Stop oil and gas exports;
  5. Shut down pipelines and other fossil fuel infrastructure;
  6. Respect Indigenous rights;
  7. Crack down on industrial pollution;
  8. Eliminate fossil fuel subsidies;
  9. Require banks to divest from fossil fuels and deforestation; and
  10. Halt fracking.

"Despite his bold campaign promises, and two... executive orders on climate in the first week of his presidency, Biden has failed to use the full power of his office to tackle fossil fuel production and address the climate emergency," said Joye Braun, national pipelines organizer at the Indigenous Environmental Network.

Basav Sen, climate policy director at the Institute for Policy Studies, made clear that "Biden can't have it both ways."

"He can't claim to be a 'Climate President' while presiding over the largest offshore oil and gas lease ever, and more oil and gas leases on public lands than what the Trump administration issued over the same length of time," said Sen. "He has to listen to demands from the frontlines and use every power at his disposal to end the production, processing, and burning of fossil fuels."

During his first year in office, "Biden has been the 'Climate Change-Causing President,'" said Erika Thi Patterson, climate and environmental justice campaign director at the Action Center on Race and the Economy. "He's done next to nothing to curb fossil fuel development or hold fossil fuel corporations accountable for generations of environmental racism."

Biden was praised in June for canceling the Keystone XL Pipeline because it threatened the nation's air and water and violated Indigenous treaty rights, but his administration has since refused to shut down Line 3, Line 5, the Mountain Valley Pipeline, and the Dakota Access Pipeline even though those projects pose the same risks to public health and climate stability.

After promising on the campaign trail to ban "new oil and gas permitting on public lands and waters," Biden has moved in the opposite direction as president--approving more permits for drilling on public lands in his first year than former President Donald Trump did in 2017.

Just days after professing Washington's alleged commitment to decarbonization at the COP26 climate summit last year, Biden hosted Lease Sale 257--the largest offshore oil and gas drilling auction in U.S. history, which offered up 80 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico's seabed to the highest-bidding companies.

Last week, a federal judge invalidated the sale, ruling that the Biden administration failed to accurately assess its likely climate damage.

The U.S. Geological Survey has estimated that roughly 25% of the nation's total greenhouse gas pollution can be attributed to extraction on public lands and waters, meaning there's no way for Biden to meet his goal of cutting U.S. emissions in half this decade unless he follows through on his pledge to halt the federal fossil fuel leasing program.

As domestic oil and gas production increased over the past decade--driven in part by a boom in hydraulic fracturing that began when Biden was a member of former President Barack Obama's administration--the U.S. became one of the world's largest fossil fuel exporters.

"The Biden administration's bullish support for fracking and liquified natural gas exports is a disaster for communities and the climate," said Thomas Meyer, national organizing manager at Food & Water Watch. "Shipping dirty gas abroad will lead to more drilling here at home, when we should be ending our addiction to fossil fuels."

"The Biden administration's bullish support for fracking and liquified natural gas exports is a disaster for communities and the climate."

Despite mounting evidence of the deadly toll of fossil fuels, Biden has yet to use his executive authority to cancel nearly two dozen fracked gas export projects that are set to unleash pollution equivalent to roughly 400 new coal-fired power plants.

Citing new research from Harvard University's school of public health, Meyer noted that "fracking is poisoning the people who live with this toxic industry every day."

"It pollutes our air and water, and it drives climate chaos," he added. "The White House must stop this fossil fuel madness."

For more than a year, the Build Back Fossil Free coalition has made the case in writing and in the streets that the best way for Biden to deliver on climate "is to use the extensive executive authorities and regulatory powers granted to the administration, rather than 'give the football' to Congress, where corrupt politicians with close ties to the fossil fuel industry have successfully blocked meaningful political action."

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The coalition's argument has only grown more salient since right-wing Democratic lawmakers, including coal baron Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), teamed up with the GOP to kill last year's iteration of the Build Back Better reconciliation bill intended to support working people and slash carbon pollution.

"Biden should quit peddling to polluters and their congressional cronies, take out his presidential pen, and deliver on his climate promises," said Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity's Climate Law Institute. "Under existing law, Biden has powerful tools to stop approving fossil fuel projects, leases, and exports, and to declare a climate emergency to ignite a just, renewable-energy economy."

Despite climate scientists' repeated warnings about the need to keep coal, oil, and gas in the ground to have a fighting chance of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5oC above preindustrial levels by the end of the century, the U.S. is one of at least five wealthy nations planning to expand fossil fuel production in the coming years.

With that in mind, Siegel stressed that "the future of life on Earth depends on whether Biden will use his powers or surrender to a fossil-fueled catastrophe."

According to the Build Back Fossil Free coalition, which developed an extensive blueprint last year:

The president has a long list of actions that he could take or instruct his agencies to take, ranging from stopping fossil fuel infrastructure approvals to instructing the [Environmental Protection Agency] to issue a stringent pollution prevention rule for the oil and gas sector. Declaring a climate emergency under the National Emergencies Act would unlock additional statutory powers, including the ability to halt crude oil exports and directing funds to build resilient, distributed renewable energy.

With the president's legislative agenda at a standstill and extreme weather disasters continuing to mount, the coalition hopes that Biden will "revisit the idea of using his executive and agency authorities to address the climate emergency."

"No matter what," the groups vowed to "keep escalating pressure on the administration to act in the coming months, with more protests, mass call-ins, and meetings with administration officials in the works."

John Beard, executive director of the Port Arthur Community Action Network, said that "Biden's failure to use his executive power in light of an overwhelming mandate from those most affected is troubling."

"By not 'keeping it in the ground' and accelerating the transition to clean, renewable energy, he further endangers millions in overburdened communities who suffer from the poisonous effects of fossil fuels," said Beard. "Our lives, our planet is at risk, and he must take decisive executive action now. Delay is not an option."

"His choice is easy, his path clear and certain: He must choose 'people over fossil fuels' to build back better, fossil free," Beard added. "And we fully expect him to keep his word."

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