Policy Update: Biden Signs Climate Executive Orders - American Farmland Trust

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Policy Update: Biden Signs Climate Executive Orders

Last week, President Biden signed the “Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad” (fact sheet here). This Order builds upon his previous climate actions, including rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement, and “Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis,” which revoked the Keystone XL Pipeline, among other actions.

The Order set a goal to achieve a “carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035” and for the nation to be put on “an irreversible path to a net-zero economy by 2050.” The Order makes climate a central element in national security, foreign policy, and the work of federal agencies, and creates both a White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy and a National Climate Task Force, the latter of which will consist of agency leadership. It also directs the government to lead by example, including pausing the creation of new oil and natural gas leases on public lands and offshore waters. Finally, the Order directs agencies to support revitalization of communities historically dependent on fossil fuel extraction, and directs agencies to prioritize environmental justice work, including directing 40% of the overall benefits of relevant federal investments to disadvantaged communities.

The Order also discusses agriculture, setting a goal of conserving at least 30% of lands and oceans by 2030, and establishing a Civilian Conservation Corps to go to work “conserving and restoring public lands and waters, increasing reforestation, increasing carbon sequestration in the agricultural sector, protecting biodiversity, improving access to recreation, and addressing the changing climate.” Finally, it directs the Secretary of Agriculture to collect stakeholder input on “how to use federal programs to encourage the adoption of climate-smart agricultural practices.” There are not yet any additional details on these directives.

Below are additional details on the Executive Order:

Advance Conservation, Agriculture, and Reforestation

  • Commits to conserving at least 30 percent of our lands and oceans by 2030 and launches a process for stakeholder engagement from agricultural and forest landowners, fishermen, Tribes, States, Territories, local officials, and others to identify strategies that will result in broad participation.
  • Calls for the establishment of a Civilian Climate Corps Initiative to put a new generation of Americans to work conserving and restoring public lands and waters, increasing reforestation, increasing carbon sequestration in the agricultural sector, protecting biodiversity, improving access to recreation, and addressing the changing climate.
  • Directs the Secretary of Agriculture to collect input from farmers, ranchers, and other stakeholders on how to use federal programs to encourage adoption of climate-smart agricultural practices that produce verifiable carbon reductions and sequestrations and create new sources of income and jobs for rural Americans. 

Center the Climate Crisis in U.S. Foreign Policy and National Security Considerations

  • Establishes climate considerations as an essential element of U.S. foreign policy and national security.
  • Affirms that, in implementing the Paris Agreement’s objectives, the United States promote a significant increase in global ambition. It makes clear that both short-term global emission reductions and net zero global emissions by mid-century – or before – are required to avoid setting the world on a dangerous climate trajectory.
  • Reaffirms that the President will host a Leaders’ Climate Summit on Earth Day, April 22, 2021; that the United States will reconvene the Major Economies Forum; that the President has created a new position, the Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, which will have a seat on the National Security Council, and that it will be a U.S. priority to press for enhanced climate ambition and integration of climate considerations across a wide range of international fora.
  • Begins the process of developing the United States’ “nationally determined contribution” – our emission reduction target – under the Paris Agreement, as well as a climate finance plan.
  • Directs the Director of National Intelligence to prepare a National Intelligence Estimate on the security implications of climate change, the State Department to prepare a transmittal package to the Senate for the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, and all agencies to develop strategies for integrating climate into their international work.

Take a Whole-of-Government Approach to the Climate Crisis

  • Establishes the White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy – led by the first-ever National Climate Advisor and Deputy National Climate Advisor – creating a central office charged with coordinating and implementing the President’s domestic climate agenda.
  • Establishes the National Climate Task Force, assembling leaders from across 21 federal agencies and departments to enable a whole-of-government approach to combatting the climate crisis.

Leverage the Federal Government’s Footprint and Buying Power to Lead by Example

  • Directs federal agencies to procure carbon pollution-free electricity and zero-emission vehicles, and that those purchases be Made in America.
  • Directs each federal agency to develop a plan to increase the resilience of its facilities and operations to the impacts of climate change and directs relevant agencies to report on ways to expand and improve climate forecast capabilities.
  • Directs the Secretary of the Interior to pause on entering into new oil and natural gas leases on public lands or offshore waters, launch a rigorous review of existing leasing and permitting practices related to fossil fuel development on public lands and waters, and identify steps that can be taken to double renewable energy production from offshore wind by 2030. The order does not restrict energy activities on lands that the United States holds in trust for Tribes. The Secretary of the Interior will continue to consult with Tribes regarding the development and management of renewable and conventional energy resources.
  • Directs federal agencies to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies as consistent with applicable law and identify new opportunities to spur innovation, commercialization, and deployment of clean energy technologies and infrastructure.

Rebuild Our Infrastructure for a Sustainable Economy

  • Catalyzes the creation of jobs in construction, manufacturing, engineering and the skilled-trades by directing steps to ensure that every federal infrastructure investment reduces climate pollution and that steps are taken to accelerate clean energy and transmission projects under federal siting and permitting processes in an environmentally sustainable manner.

Revitalize Energy Communities

  • Establishes an Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization, to be co-chaired by the National Climate Advisor and the Director of the National Economic Council, and directs federal agencies to coordinate investments and other efforts to assist coal, oil and natural gas, and power plant communities.
  • Tasks the Interagency Working Group to advance projects that reduce emissions of toxic substances and greenhouse gases from existing and abandoned infrastructure and that prevent environmental damage that poses a risk to public health, such as projects to reduce methane emissions. Also directs the Interagency Working Group to explore efforts to turn properties idled in these communities, like brownfields, into new hubs for the growth of our economy.

Secure Environmental Justice and Spur Economic Opportunity

  • Formalizes President Biden’s commitment to make environmental justice a part of the mission of every agency by directing federal agencies to develop programs, policies, and activities to address the disproportionate health, environmental, economic, and climate impacts on disadvantaged communities.
  • Establishes a White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council and a White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council to prioritize environmental justice and ensure a whole-of-government approach to addressing current and historical environmental injustices, including strengthening environmental justice monitoring and enforcement through new or strengthened offices at the Environmental Protection Agency.  The new bodies are also tasked with advising on ways to update Executive Order 12898 of February 11, 1994.
  • Creates a government-wide Justice40 Initiative with the goal of delivering 40 percent of the overall benefits of relevant federal investments to disadvantaged communities and tracks performance toward that goal through the establishment of an Environmental Justice Scorecard.
  • Initiates the development of a Climate and Environmental Justice Screening Tool, building off EPA’s EJSCREEN, to identify disadvantaged communities, support the Justice40 Initiative, and inform equitable decision making across the federal government
About the Author
Emily Liss

Farm Viability Policy Manager


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