President Joe Biden’s climate change actions–and inactions–explained

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President Joe Biden signed an executive order to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement on his first day in office, undoing former President Donald Trump’s actions in 2020.
Photo by Gage Skidmore

By Sydney McGovern

One of President Joe Biden’s primary campaign platforms centered on combating the effects of climate change. He pledged to “tackle the climate emergency, plan for a clean energy future and secure environmental justice.”   

But after six months in office, some environmental activists say that the administration has fallen short on its goals and evaded its promises. Here’s a five-point break down of Biden’s climate change campaign action plan and how the president has lived up to his commitments so far.  

“I. Ensure the U.S. achieves a 100% clean energy economy and reaches net-zero emissions no later than 2050” 

On the campaign trail, Biden promised to sign a series of executive orders on his first day in office to put the country on track to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. Hours after taking his oath of office on January 20, the president signed two climate-related orders.  

The first was to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement that President Donald Trump exited in 2020. The international pact seeks to limit global warming by cutting back each country’s greenhouse gas emissions.  

The second was another reversal of a Trump order. It revoked the presidential permit granted to the Keystone XL pipeline – a controversial project to transport fossil fuels across the United States – and ordered for the immediate review of other Trump regulations that the administration deemed harmful to the environment.  

Biden also promised to introduce legislation within his first year to establish enforcement mechanisms to achieve his emissions goals. In March, this came in the form of his $2 trillion infrastructure plan.  

“II. Build a stronger, more resilient nation” 

The American Jobs Plan was introduced as an all-encompassing infrastructure bill with spending toward physical infrastructure like roads, rails and bridges, as well as “at home” infrastructure like pipes, broadband, research and community-based care. 

It originally included $174 billion to bolster investments in the electric vehicle market. In the wake of widespread blackouts in Texas, the package also included $100 billion to update the country’s electric grid. 

The proposal allocated funding to more resilient infrastructure in response to severe weather and millions for research on technology to mitigate climate change. The plan also included federal standards to mandate that a portion of United States electricity come from renewable energy. 

But in recent negotiations, White House officials slashed many of the climate change reforms in the plan to appease Republican lawmakers. The updated bill includes just $15 billion toward electric vehicle infrastructure, less than 10% of the original proposal. 

The newest bipartisan deal also omits the federal energy standard to create a carbon-free national electricity grid by 2035 and abandons hundreds of billions in tax incentives for clean energy.  

These negotiations have left environmental activists dissatisfied with the package and hungry for more aggressive action. Some on the left, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said that the watered-down plan is hardly worth passing without the climate reforms.  

“III. Rally the rest of the world to meet the threat of climate change” 

During his campaign, Biden said that it wasn’t enough to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord but that the United States must also use foreign policy to push climate change action.  

In April, Biden announced the country’s nationally determined contribution within the Paris Climate Agreement to reduce its net greenhouse gas emissions by 50% to 52% below 2005 levels by 2030.  

The president made this announcement during his Leaders Summit on Climate – a two-day gathering of 17 leaders of the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitters. Together, they discussed several of the countries’ climate ambitions, research, conservation and economic growth. 

In his demand for global action, Biden targeted China as the world-leader in carbon emissions as it subsidizes coal exports and outsources carbon pollution.  

At the leaders summit, China’s President Xi Jinping promised that his country’s coal consumption levels would peak around the middle of the decade. Although positive, many climate experts warn that it’s an empty promise – China still plans to construct hundreds of coal-fired power stations in the next few years. 

But climate change experts say that Biden cannot expect China to cut its coal production without similar actions from the United States.  

At the Group of 7 Summit in June, world leaders failed to set an end-date for coal consumption, leaving groups like Greenpeace International unconvinced of world leaders’ serious intentions to mitigate climate change. 

“IV. Stand up to the abuse of power by polluters who disproportionately harm communities of color and low-income communities” 

Biden promised to restore federal protections rolled back by the Trump Administration that were designed to protect vulnerable communities. These protections include clean air and water for communities of color and indigenous communities across the country.  

In June, Biden’s Environmental Protection Agency announced its plans to reinstate protections for clean streams, wetlands and groundwater.  

Under his EPA and Justice Department, the president also pledged to pursue legal action to hold polluters accountable. Criminal cases against polluters saw a major low during Trump’s presidency.  

Since Biden has taken office, the number of EPA criminal cases has slightly risen from previous years, though the true volume of environmental legal action under the current administration is yet to be seen.  

But legal experts say that Biden’s new EPA shows early promise for aggressive action. A recent memorandum indicated the agency’s commitment to crack down on polluters targeting marginalized communities through increased inspections and community engagement.  

“V. Fulfill our obligation to workers and communities who powered our industrial revolution and subsequent decades of economic growth” 

One of the major challenges in transitioning away from traditional energy generation is protecting communities that are economically reliant on coal, oil and gas.  

In his first week in office, Biden created the Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization. The group was the first step to fulfill his promises to ensure benefits and protections for workers in traditional energy generation. 

In April, the Department of Energy announced $109.5 million in funding for projects that support job creation in these communities. The funding devoted $75 million for carbon capture projects, $19.5 million for critical mineral extraction from coal waste and $15 million for energy research at West Virginia University. 

The United Mine Workers of America, the largest coal miners’ union in the country, shared its support for the American Jobs Plan in April, so long as the president provided for increased job training in renewable energy.  

But many of Biden’s climate change reforms included in his original American Jobs Plan have been rolled back in the new bipartisan infrastructure deal, leaving the future of his climate change goals unclear.  

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