President Biden to Sign Executive Order, Pausing Oil and Gas Leasing

President Biden to Sign Executive Order, Pausing Oil and Gas Leasing

President Biden to Sign Executive Order, Pausing Oil and Gas Leasing

President Biden to Sign Executive Order, Pausing Oil and Gas Leasing

WASHINGTON — President Biden on Wednesday signed a sweeping series of executive orders that aim to “confront the existential threat of climate change” throughout the federal government, framing them as an economic boon that would create millions of new jobs.

“We’ve already waited too long to deal with this climate crisis. We can’t wait any longer,” said Mr. Biden, speaking at the White House. “We see it with our own eyes. We feel it. We know it in our bones. And it’s time to act.”

Looking to counteract Republican claims that his climate policies would hurt an economy already weakened by the pandemic, the president cast many of his orders as job creators, among other things pledging to use the purchasing power of the federal government to buy a vast fleet of zero-emissions vehicles. “This will mean one million new jobs in the American automobile industry,” Mr. Biden said.

Wednesday’s executive orders also set broad new foreign policy goals, including specifying that climate change, for the first time, will be a core part of all foreign policy and national security decisions.

Earlier in the day Mr. Biden’s international climate envoy, John Kerry, said the United States would host an international climate change summit on Earth Day, April 22. “The convening of this summit is essential to ensuring that 2021 is going to be the year that really makes up for the lost time of the last four years,” said Mr. Kerry.

He pledged that by that date he would announce a new set of specific targets detailing how the United States would lower its carbon dioxide emissions under the terms of the Paris Agreement, the international climate accord from which former President Donald J. Trump had withdrawn, and which Mr. Biden has rejoined.

In addition, taking the first significant steps toward one of Mr. Biden’s most contentious campaign promises, the executive orders direct the Interior Department “to pause on entering into new oil and natural gas leases on public lands and offshore waters to the extent possible” while beginning a “rigorous review” of all existing fossil fuel leases and permitting practices, according to a fact sheet provided by the White House.

Federal agencies also will be ordered to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies “and identify new opportunities to spur innovation.” Overhauling the tax breaks — worth billions of dollars to the oil, coal and gas industries — to help pay for Mr. Biden’s $2 trillion climate change plan was also a major campaign promise. However, there is little the executive branch can do unilaterally without action from Congress.

“I don’t think the federal government should give handouts to big oil to the tune of $40 billion dollars in fossil fuel subsidies,” Mr. Biden said, referring to studies suggesting that removing tax breaks for oil and gas companies would total that amount of revenue over 10 years. He vowed to ask lawmakers to end those tax incentives — a statement that brought quick condemnation from the oil and gas industry.

Mike Sommers, president of the American Petroleum Institute, an oil industry trade group, said his group will “oppose any kind of effort like that.”

Oil, gas and coal executives as well as Republican lawmakers described Mr. Biden’s climate change plans as a broadside against the fossil fuel industry that will do little to actually reduce United States emissions. Pete Obermueller, president of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, said the decision to pause new leases represents “a staggering loss” to his state, while Jim Willox, president of the Wyoming County Commissioners Association called it “a punch in the gut” to Wyoming.

New Mexico, a major oil and gas producing state that owes about a third of its budget to revenues from the industry, “will be hit harder than any other state” by Mr. Biden’s leasing plan.

Major oil companies took a more measured approach. BP in a statement said it wants to work with the administration to develop “well-designed climate policies.”

The move is one that climate change advocates had long sought and many said they hope the Biden administration will go still further and deny permits for new oil and gas leasing. Oceana, an environmental group focused on ocean health, released an analysis this week finding that ending new leasing for offshore oil and gas could prevent over 19 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

“More drilling means more climate pollution that we simply cannot afford,” said Diane Hoskins, campaign director at Oceana.

Wednesday’s executive orders set broad new foreign policy goals.

They formalized the role for Mr. Kerry, the former Secretary of State, as Mr. Biden’s new international climate envoy, with a seat on the National Security Council. The orders also call for the federal government’s 17 intelligence agencies to create a first-ever National Intelligence Estimate of the national security risks posed by climate change.

Mr. Kerry in an interview Wednesday said the United States must make up for lost time on the global stage, and a Climate Leaders Summit that Mr. Biden will hold on April 22 will be the first step toward that.

“We’re coming back after four years of absence,” he said. “We have to have some humility here, recognizing that the president of the United States, our predecessor, angered a lot of people and created a lot of unhappiness and left a trail of doubt about where America is going to go,” Mr. Kerry said.

He pledged that by that date he would announce a new set of specific targets detailing how the United States would lower its carbon dioxide emissions under the terms of the Paris Agreement, the international climate accord from which former President Donald J. Trump had withdrawn, and which Mr. Biden has rejoined.

“We applaud this,” said Erin Sikorsky, who led climate and national security analysis across federal intelligence agencies until last year and is now deputy director of the Center for Climate & Security, a Washington-based think tank. “It moves us beyond what Obama did.”

The United States has struggled to meet its promises under the Paris Agreement, the agreement among nations to fight climate change; under those terms the nation had pledged to slash emissions up to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. Nevertheless, Mr. Biden’s orders will kick off a process to develop new and more ambitious targets that will be announced in advance of a major United Nations summit at the end of the year.

Mr. Kerry sidestepped questions about how much more in finance the United States would deliver to poor and vulnerable countries hit hardest by climate change. The United States under the Obama administration pledged $3 billion to the Green Climate Fund, a pool of international financing aimed at helping developing countries. It delivered $1 billion before President Trump abandoned the commitment.

Mr. Kerry on Wednesday said the question of how much President Biden will request in his first budget later this year to start fulfilling the unpaid $2 billion is “under discussion,” as is whether the United States will increase its pledge.

Energy analysts in the United States have speculated the Biden administration could reasonably promise to cut emissions between 40 and 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. Europeans and environmental activists have urged the United States to go further, as far as 70 percent.

Mr. Kerry on Wednesday said it was “way too premature” to talk numbers but said he was mindful that the United States needs to be ambitious and realistic at the same time. “We have to do it in a way that is achievable and reasonable,” he said.

By committing to a new target, the United States would bind itself to even steeper reductions than it promised under the Obama administration. That will ratchet up pressure on the Biden administration to deliver quickly on its domestic policies, including reviving and strengthening regulations that former President Trump killed to curb carbon pollution from power plants and automobile tailpipes.

Gina McCarthy, Mr. Biden’s the top adviser on domestic climate policy, said she intends to move forward quickly to implement those policies. And she reiterated Mr. Biden’s framing of his climate policies as job creators, pledging that policies that would shut down mining and drilling would at also boost manufacturing of wind and solar turbines and electric vehicles.

“A lot of the investment is about building the manufacturing base of America again. That’s union jobs,” she said.

Mr. Biden has already ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to begin the process of reinstating the federal government’s single largest policy to curb carbon dioxide emissions — an Obama-era rule that had been designed to cut greenhouse tailpipe pollution from automobile tailpipes, which Mr. Trump rolled back last year.

Ms. McCarthy pledged that the administration would seek to ensure that fossil fuel workers who lose jobs in the effort to cut emissions can gain new ones in clean energy sectors. “We’re not going to ask people to go from the middle of Ohio and Pennsylvania and ship out to the coast to work on solar,” she said. “We’re not going to take away jobs.”

Environmental groups called the changes long overdue, particularly after four years in which the Trump administration mocked climate science and eliminated virtually every tool the government had to tackle rising emissions.

“This is the single biggest day for climate action in more than a decade,” said Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters.

In his campaign, Mr. Biden set out goals of eliminating fossil fuel emissions from the electricity sector by 2035, protecting 30 percent of lands and oceans by 2030, and putting the United States on a path toward net-zero emissions — that is, eliminating as much carbon pollution as the country puts into the atmosphere — before 2050.

His plan calls for spending $2 trillion over four years to meet that goal, a tall order in a narrowly divided Congress.

Mr. Biden also intends to establish a National Climate Task Force that will include leaders from 21 federal agencies. It also creates a new White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council and a separate advisory council to prioritize an understanding of the damage pollution does to poor and minority communities.

Mr. Biden also directed agencies to look for ways to increase the amount and quality of climate-forecast information available, to help “governments, communities, and businesses in preparing for and adapting to the impacts of climate change.”

Those impacts extend to the federal government itself. The White House directed every agency to create plans that will better protect their facilities against climate change. That reflects a significant challenge: Even the Washington headquarters of many agencies, including the Justice Department, the Internal Revenue Service and the Environmental Protection Agency, sit inside the 100-year flood plain.

Mr. Biden also will issue a memorandum on scientific integrity, instructing agencies to make what the White House called “evidence-based decisions guided by the best available science and data.” Every agency, not just those that do scientific research, must appoint “scientific integrity” officials.

The steps to ensure scientific integrity follow efforts by former President Donald J. Trump’s administration to thwart climate science.

In one of the most prominent examples, senior Trump officials pressured leaders at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 2019 to repudiate their own scientists after a weather station in Birmingham, Ala., contradicted Mr. Trump’s incorrect statement that Hurricane Dorian would strike the state.

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