Biden Signs Major Climate Change Order

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President Biden warned that the climate crisis poses an “existential threat” to the world, as he unveiled a major change in direction from the Trump era by halting fossil fuel activity on public lands and directing the U.S. government to prioritize reducing emissions. His sweeping executive order on climate, released on Wednesday, January 27, includes instruction for the U.S. government to pause and review all oil and gas drilling on federal land, eliminate fossil fuel subsidies, and transform the government’s vast fleet of cars and trucks into electric vehicles.

Last week, Biden opened his climate change agenda by revoking a key cross-border presidential permit needed to finish the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. This likely means the end of the $8 billion pipeline, a years-long project that would have carried oil sands crude from Alberta, Canada to the American Gulf Coast.

Biden’s ambitious climate plan will attempt to bring together a much larger coalition than former President Barack Obama had 12 years ago — a coalition that ranges from labor unions, anti-fracking activists, and racial justice advocates to leaders of Wall Street, the auto industry, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The challenge will be holding together this broad stakeholder group, with its many competing agendas, long enough to make progress in Congress.

Specifics of the plan include:

  • A shift to zero-emission vehicles for federal, state, local, and tribal government fleets, including vehicles of the United States Postal Service;
  • A “pause” on new oil and natural gas leases on public lands or in offshore waters pending a comprehensive review;
  • The elimination of federal subsidies for fossil fuels;
  • A sustainable infrastructure initiative with the White House Council on Environmental Quality and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) working to ensure that federal infrastructure investment reduces climate pollution;
  • A reversal of Trump-era rules that stopped federal agencies from considering the effects of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change in their environmental reviews;
  • The establishment of a Civilian Climate Corps;
  • An environmental justice initiative working to ensure that 40%of the benefits of federal investments in energy, transit and other programs flow to disadvantaged communities; and
  • Inclusion of the Secretary of Transportation on task forces, working groups, and interagency councils focused on climate, environmental justice, and the economic revitalization of coal and power plant communities.

ASCE supports developing resilient solutions to the climate challenges facing the nation’s critical infrastructure. In November 2019, ASCE submitted testimony to the Congressional Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. That testimony noted that one of the best tactics we have to address climate change is to use the best available information and industry standards to strengthen our infrastructure systems and to plan for the future. The testimony also shared ASCE initiatives that address climate change such as the Manual of Practice 140, Climate-Resilient Infrastructure: Adaptive Design and Risk Management and the upcoming Sustainable Infrastructure Standard, as well as ASCE’s support of life-cycle cost analysis and the greater adoption of industry codes and standards.

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