Biden moves quickly to restore environmental protections eased by Trump

Biden will also direct agencies to review more than 100 environmental regulations, agency decisions by Trump administration

The EPA polices disinfectant claims under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act.  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
The EPA polices disinfectant claims under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted January 20, 2021 at 6:00am

After he is sworn in Wednesday, President-elect Joe Biden will set the U.S. on track to rejoin the 2015 Paris climate accords and revoke the permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline, early steps in the process of restoring environmental protections rolled back by the Trump administration.

Biden will also direct federal agencies to review more than 100 federal environmental regulations and agency decisions by the Trump administration, according to summaries from Biden’s transition team.

And he will sign a series of executive orders, letters, memoranda and other presidential messages, including an executive order on public health, science, climate change and the environment.

Through that order, Biden will direct 10 agencies to review 104 Trump-era regulations and actions, according to the transition team. Such reviews are standard between presidencies.

Late last year, the State Department formally withdrew the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement, a non-binding agreement reached by nearly every nation in the winter of 2015.

Earth-heating emissions dropped slightly during 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but are ticked upward again.

Biden in late 2020 picked former Secretary of State John Kerry, who led the U.S. delegation in Paris six years ago, to lead international climate affairs under his administration.

Keystone

Donald Trump campaigned before his election on restoring the Keystone XL pipeline, a project first stalled during the Obama administration that would bring crude oil from Alberta across plains states and to the Gulf of Mexico.

Because the project crosses the U.S.-Canada border, it requires presidential approval, which Trump gave but Biden says he won't.

Five Republican senators — Steve Daines of Montana, John Barrasso and Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, and John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer of North Dakota — wrote Biden on Tuesday, urging him to support the pipeline.

The company behind the pipeline, a Canadian firm called TC Energy, recently pledged, in an apparent attempt to win favor with the incoming Democrat, that it would offset the emissions from the pipeline with renewable electricity.

“Keystone XL has evolved considerably since it was originally envisioned,” the Republicans wrote. “The project sponsor has pledged to operate the pipeline at a net-zero emissions level by its in-service date of 2023, and will supply the roughly 1,600 MW of power needed for operations from renewable electricity sources by 2030,” using the shorthand for megawatts.

Drilling moratorium

Biden also will place a temporary moratorium on oil and gas leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a pristine wilderness area in northeast Alaska that the Trump administration opened to oil and gas drilling, and review the boundaries of national monuments such as Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante. Trump drastically reduced the size of both of those Utah monuments.

While the majority of the regulations listed for review are actions by the EPA and the Interior Department, Biden’s order also covers rules from the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Energy, Justice, Labor and Transportation, as well as the Council on Environmental Quality.

On the chopping block in the new Democratic administration are dozens of deregulatory moves by the Trump administration that lessened restrictions on air and water pollution, weakened federal fuel-economy standards, loosened emission safeguards on the oil, natural gas and coal industries, and watered down chemical rules.

The bulk of the review is on 48 EPA rules and 31 Interior rules, and the regulations slated for scrutiny by the Biden administration appear largely to have been issued since mid-2020 or later.

Through the Congressional Review Act, congressional Democrats will likely attempt to repeal regulatory changes from the outgoing White House. That law allows Congress to do so for regulations put in place during the previous 60 legislative days.

The George Washington University’s Regulatory Studies Center has calculated rules issued after mid-May could be subject to the reach of the CRA.

But the list of rules the Biden team aims to scrutinize also includes earlier moves, such as a 2019 regulation on light-duty vehicles’ fuel economy, oil and gas leasing decisions from 2018, rules governing hydraulic fracturing on federal and indigenous lands, a rule easing protections for migratory birds and a coal-mining moratorium on federal lands the Trump administration ended in 2017.