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Biden’s Executive Orders Aim to Reset Trump’s Disastrous Policies. Here are the Highlights.

This page was published 3 years ago. Find the latest on Earthjustice’s work.

The Biden-Harris administration began Day One by outlining a sweeping policy agenda. After taking his oath, President Biden signed a suite of executive orders directing federal agencies to commit to higher ethical standards and change course on the biggest social and environmental issues of our time.

With these orders, Biden’s cabinet will now be reviewing a wide array of the Trump administration’s environmental rule changes and rollbacks. The list looks a lot like Earthjustice’s docket of lawsuits that held back many of the previous administration’s most damaging decisions and preserved opportunities for repair by this new administration.

Tackling Climate Change

Biden named the climate crisis as one of four overlapping crises facing the nation. Today’s actions orient the U.S. toward a vision of a clean energy future that includes good union jobs and advances environmental justice. Among the orders are opportunities to reverse Trump’s polluter-friendly policies and combat climate change by:

  • rejoining the Paris Agreement to uphold our nation’s commitment to addressing climate change,
  • canceling the Keystone XL pipeline,
  • reversing Trump’s effort to expand and deregulate offshore drilling and affirming that the Arctic Ocean and Atlantic canyons are permanently closed to drilling,
  • reviewing methane pollution standards for the fossil fuel industry, fuel economy standards for motor vehicles, and energy efficiency standards for appliances, and
  • taking an all-of-government approach to tackling the climate crisis.

Cleaning U.S. Waters

With more than half of U.S. waters unsafe for drinking, fishing, or swimming, the Biden administration is moving the government’s focus back to cleanup by reviewing Trump attacks on:

Stopping Dangerous Chemicals

The Biden administration is calling for a review of Trump-era chemical safety rollbacks that have put the nation’s health and ecosystems at risk. Biden’s orders are a step toward:

  • strengthening the policies under the Toxic Substances Control Act, which regulates the manufacture, use, and disposal of chemicals that can be harmful to people and wildlife,
  • restoring the ban on chlorpyrifos, a toxic pesticide known to harm both children and adults, and
  • bolstering the Lead and Copper Rule that helps ensure U.S. households have access to safe drinking water.

Preserving American Wilderness

Protecting the planet’s remaining biodiversity is foundational for climate stability. Biden announced a temporary moratorium on oil and gas drilling in “America’s Serengeti,” the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. And he ordered the review of the Trump administration’s gutting of key protections for wild places and wildlife, including:

Repairing “The People’s Environmental Law”

The National Environmental Policy Act is a community’s first line of defense at the federal level for protecting their communities from projects that could be harmful to their health and environment. Earthjustice has leveraged this law to give voice to our clients on destructive projects such as pipelines, waste incinerators, and Trump’s border wall, the construction of which has been halted by the new administration. Biden’s orders call for a review of the Trump’s administration’s regulatory rollbacks that blocked the government’s duties to:

  • bring transparency to federally-funded projects with robust public outreach,
  • mitigate environmental harms while also meeting the government’s needs, and
  • ensure the people’s right to weigh in on regulations and projects that will have environmental and public health impacts.

What comes next?

The agencies will review each policy for legality, purpose, and alignment with good governance and science-based policy practices. While the outcomes of the orders won’t be immediate, we are optimistic that they will pave the way for meaningful progress.

  • With qualified public servants leading key federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, Interior, and Energy, the opportunity for dialogue between agencies, with allies, and with the public will be restored.
  • With long-overdue leadership in the Council on Environmental Quality, the administration can more effectively coordinate whole-government mobilizations for major policy initiatives.
  • And with ethical, nonpartisan leadership in the Department of Justice and its environmental division in particular, the chances of success for these actions are strong, because many of the Trump administration’s environmental policies have already been found illegal in court.

“Today we celebrate the triumph, not of a candidate, but of a cause, the cause of democracy,” Biden said in his inaugural address. He acknowledged that we have “much to repair, much to restore, much to heal, much to build, and much to gain.”

As an organization that wields the power of the law in service of the planet and all people, our cause is entwined with that of our democracy. In these actions we see a roadmap to the future we at Earthjustice are fighting for. We applaud the Biden-Harris administration for these early and bold signs of their commitment to the rule of law, science-based policy, and the needs of all communities.

See below for an annotated version of the environmental actions the Biden administration is planning to review.

Joe Biden signs his first executive orders in the Oval Office on day one of his administration, January 20, 2021.
Joe Biden signs his first executive orders in the Oval Office on day one of his administration, January 20, 2021. (Evan Vucci / Associated Press)