As the 46th president of the United States, Joe Biden took significant steps on his first day in office to advance the energy and climate initiatives of his administration. This LawFlash provides a brief summary of several key actions, including the notice of the United States’ intention to rejoin the Paris Agreement, cancellation of the federal permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline Project, and directives by President Biden to certain federal agencies, as well as an overview of key members of his climate team who will be advancing administration policies.
Rejoining the Paris Agreement fulfills a promise from President Biden’s presidential campaign. As a procedural matter, President Biden first sent notice to the United Nations on January 20 that the United States intends to rejoin the agreement, and the United States will rejoin 30 days thereafter.
Once the United States rejoins the Paris Agreement, it will face the difficult task of determining and submitting nationally determined contributions (NDCs) to the other member nations, which will be the United States’ stated goals for greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions over time. During the Obama administration, the United States pledged that by 2025, it would reduce emissions levels by 26–28% compared to 2005 levels. During his presidential campaign, President Biden pledged to have the United States achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, but the United States is currently not on track to achieve either goal.
The various additional executive orders related to renewable energy and climate change that President Biden is expected to issue in the first weeks of his presidency as well as early legislation will be closely evaluated by both domestic and international communities to assess the scope and timing of the administration’s plans for GHG reduction. There may be additional debate in the months ahead as to whether the United States rejoining the Paris Agreement requires Senate ratification.
President Biden signed an executive order to rescind the federal permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, which effectively halts construction on the Keystone XL project. The Keystone XL pipeline project is designed to carry oil sands crude from Alberta, Canada to Nebraska. The project was previously rejected by the Obama administration, which viewed the project as contrary to its climate agenda, but was later granted a presidential permit under the Trump administration.
However, this action is not likely to end debate over the fate of the Keystone XL pipeline. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney indicated earlier this week that he will seek legal damages if President Biden plans to cancel the pipeline, and he urged the Biden administration to, at a minimum, have further discussions with Canadian officials about the project.
President Biden’s Day 1 actions also included the following directions to federal agencies to take specific steps that will contribute to addressing the climate crisis:
Additionally, the president also directed all executive departments and agencies to immediately review and “take action to address” federal regulations and other actions promulgated during the last four years that conflict with “important national objectives” such as the “pursuit of environmental justice” that is “guided by the best science”; the protection of public health and the environment; accountability for polluters “including those who disproportionately harm communities of color and low-income communities”; the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and increased resiliency to climate change; and others.
Through a number of pre–Inauguration Day announcements, President Biden has assembled a climate team to focus on implementing his climate policy agenda. While cabinet appointees and agency heads will need to be confirmed by the US Senate, other appointees (such as former Senator John Kerry and former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy) are not subject to congressional approval and will play instrumental roles. Below is a brief summary of the background of some of the announced members of President Biden’s climate team:
In addition to the initial steps being taken by President Biden, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit issued a decision just prior to Inauguration Day that invalidated the Trump administration’s EPA repeal of the Obama-era Clean Power Plan and its replacement Affordable Clean Energy Rule. This judicial development is viewed as favorable to the Biden administration’s climate policy agenda and is expected to lead to new rules and regulations focused on emissions reductions.
The Morgan Lewis team continues to monitor the latest announcements and actions taken in the first 100 days of the Biden administration and expects to provide additional energy and climate updates.