US rejoins Paris Agreement

Article by Amanda Doyle

Ron Adar /

US President Joe Biden has signed an executive order for the country to rejoin the Paris Agreement, along with other orders intended to confront the climate crisis and attempt to “undo the damage” of the last four years.

During his inauguration speech, Biden said: “A cry for survival comes from the planet itself. A cry that can’t be any more desperate or any more clear.” Hours after taking office, he formally started the process of returning the US to the commitments of the Paris Agreement, which requires a 30-day notice period.

António Guterres, UN Secretary-General, said: “I warmly welcome President Biden’s steps to re-enter the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Following last year’s Climate Ambition Summit, countries producing half of global carbon pollution had committed to carbon neutrality. Today’s commitment by President Biden brings that figure to two-thirds. But there is a very long way to go. We look forward to the leadership of the United States in accelerating global efforts towards net zero.”

Biden is also expected to host an international climate summit in the Spring.

Revoking oil permits

Under an executive order, Biden placed a temporary moratorium on the Coastal Plain Oil and Gas Leasing Program, which aims to provide drilling licences in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He also revoked the construction permit for the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline. The pipeline was to bring crude from Canada’s oilsands to US Gulf Coast refineries, but was originally denied permission by President Obama. President Trump overturned this order and gave the pipeline a presidential permit to proceed.

“The Keystone XL pipeline disserves the US national interest,” Biden wrote in the order. “The United States and the world face a climate crisis. That crisis must be met with action on a scale and at a speed commensurate with the need to avoid setting the world on a dangerous, potentially catastrophic, climate trajectory.”

Reviewing environmental regulations

He also ordered federal agencies to immediately start reviewing more than 100 environmental regulations that were rolled back or weakened under the Trump administration.

“The Federal Government must be guided by the best science and be protected by processes that ensure the integrity of Federal decision-making. It is, therefore, the policy of my Administration to listen to the science; to improve public health and protect our environment; to ensure access to clean air and water; to limit exposure to dangerous chemicals and pesticides; to hold polluters accountable, including those who disproportionately harm communities of colour and low-income communities; to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; to bolster resilience to the impacts of climate change; to restore and expand our national treasures and monuments; and to prioritize both environmental justice and the creation of the well-paying union jobs necessary to deliver on these goals.”

However, according to The New York Times, it could take years to undo the rollbacks and it will be challenging if Republicans and business groups oppose the changes. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under Trump has rolled back rules including a rule that required coal and oil-fired plants to reduce emissions of mercury, a rule designed to improve safety at chemical facilities, and a rule on reducing methane emissions in the oil and gas industry.

Biden has selected Michael Regan to serve as Administrator for the EPA, replacing Trump appointee Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist. Regan is Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality. Regan previously worked at the EPA under Presidents Clinton and Bush, and following this he was the Associate Vice President of the Environmental Defense Fund. Regan will need to be confirmed by the US Senate.

Biden has also chosen Eric Lander, a Professor of Biology at MIT, to act as Presidential Science Advisor, which will be a cabinet-level position for the first time. Lander will also co-chair the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), along with Nobel Prize-winning chemical engineer France Arnold and Maria Zuber, Professor of Geophysics at MIT.

Kathleen Rest, Executive Director at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), said: “The sweeping nature of these executive orders are an important down-payment in addressing the tatters left behind by President Trump. They seek to reverse policies that fly in the face of science, harm public health and degrade the environment.”

“Undoing the damage that the previous administration has inflicted on this country is a massive job, but these wide-ranging executive actions show the Biden administration is up to the challenge. With these day-one measures, President Biden is delivering on his promise, demonstrating that climate change will be at the top of his administration’s agenda. And his skilled climate team knows what it takes to make progress.”

Abigail Dillen, President of Earthjustice, said: “As the nation’s premier environmental law organisation, we commend the President’s immediate commitment to undoing the terrible damage of the last four years and restoring environmental protections, sound science, and ethics.”

When signing the executive orders, Biden noted that “there’s a long way to go, these are just executive actions. They are important, but we’re going to need legislation for a lot of the things we’re going to do.”

Article by Amanda Doyle

Staff Reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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