The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Jean Su, Center for Biological Diversity,

Five Executive Actions Biden Must Take As Climate Program Falters in Congress


As Congress struggles to pass major climate legislation, President Joe Biden can use existing executive powers to take at least five major actions to establish global leadership at the international climate talks in November, according to legal experts at the Center for Biological Diversity.

The Senate faces a deadlock on one of the key items of President Biden's Build Back Better Agenda: The Clean Energy Payment Program, which seeks to pay and penalize utilities to meet clean energy requirements. The congressional stalemate is occurring weeks before Biden's inaugural attendance at the global climate change talks in Glasgow, Scotland.

"While the potential demise of climate action in the Senate is disappointing, President Biden has other powerful tools to combat the climate emergency and demonstrate urgently needed global leadership," said Jean Su, energy justice director at the Center. "The president has immense executive powers to speed the end of the fossil fuel era and ignite a just, renewable-energy revolution with millions of good-paying union jobs. We're calling on President Biden to reclaim his power from coal- and gas-state senators and show us and the world that he can be our Climate President."

The top five key executive actions Biden can take to act boldly on climate without Congress are:

  1. Stop approvals of all new fossil fuel infrastructure projects. President Biden can direct all federal agencies to use their authority under existing laws like the National Environmental Policy Act and Clean Water Act to reject federal permit applications for all fossil fuel infrastructure projects.
  2. Ban federal fossil fuel leasing and drilling. Regardless of oil-industry and red-state lawsuits challenging the administration's moratorium on leasing, President Biden can halt all federal fossil fuel leasing and permitting on public lands and waters, as promised during his presidential campaign. Biden must complete the comprehensive review and rulemaking on the federal leasing program, direct the secretary of the Interior to permanently ban fossil fuel lease sales, and enact a managed decline of fossil fuel production consistent with limiting warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.
  3. Halt fossil fuel exports. President Biden can reinstate the crude oil export ban -- overturned in 2015 and a major driver of the oil shale boom -- by declaring a national emergency under the National Emergencies Act. He can also direct the Department of Energy to reject applications for gas exports to the extent allowed by the Natural Gas Act.
  4. Mobilize domestic industry to manufacture and install renewable energy technologies with good-paying union jobs. On a wartime footing, President Biden can marshal federal funds and coordinate the actions of private companies to jumpstart a thriving domestic renewable energy industry. This includes the manufacturing and installation of clean energy systems, energy efficiency technologies and electric transportation infrastructure, under the Defense Production Act. Unions must be a key stakeholder in the process to ensure that the new green economy creates millions of good-paying union jobs.
  5. Build resilient, distributed renewable energy systems in frontline communities most affected by the dirty and unjust energy complex. The president can direct emergency relief and disaster funds and redistribute military funding to build resilient energy systems under the Stafford Act and National Emergencies Act. The construction of these systems -- including community and rooftop solar, storage and microgrids -- must be prioritized in communities that have been disproportionately harmed by the racist fossil fuel system and climate disasters.

Congressional leaders like Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Jeff Merkley have called for Biden to use emergency powers to address the climate crisis. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Earl Blumenauer, joined by Sen. Bernie Sanders and dozens of other Congressmembers, cosponsored a bill demanding that Biden declare a climate emergency.

As a recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report signaled a "code red for humanity" to address the climate emergency, the Biden administration's climate legacy hinges on slashing U.S. planet-warming pollution substantially to help meet the country's fair share as the world's largest cumulative historical emitter of greenhouse gases.

Swift executive actions to end fossil fuel extraction and advance a clean and just energy transition are central premises in the progressive Climate President action plan and model executive order, as well as an executive order to end the federal fossil fuel leasing program, authored by the Center and supported by hundreds of climate and environmental justice groups.

Some are now calling for a carbon tax as an alternative to the CEPP, including some of the country's largest polluters, who support a carbon tax in exchange for gutting existing environmental law. All such calls must be rejected, as trading existing legal authority for a carbon tax would lock in fossil fuel infrastructure, perpetuate environmental injustice and doom climate efforts to failure.

Last week thousands of climate activists, including Indigenous leaders and community members, risked arrest or were arrested to urge the Biden administration to Build Back Fossil Free by declaring a climate emergency and acting through his executive powers.

At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature — to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters and climate that species need to survive.

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