President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris taking office marks the beginning of a new chapter for America on environmental policy and the fight against climate change. Over the past two weeks, President Biden issued a variety of Executive Orders and Actions to set the United States back on track to being a global leader in tackling the climate crisis. Here is a look at some of the big actions on climate, water, public health, public lands and environmental justice from the Biden administration and what they could mean for Michigan:
Rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement
On his first day in office, President Biden signed an order bringing the United States back into the Paris Climate Agreement. The United States became one of the only major countries not involved in the multinational agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in November 2020 after President Trump announced America’s departure in 2017. Biden’s move will help reinstate the U.S. as a global leader on tackling the climate crisis, which is the issue of our generation.
Meeting the goals laid out in the Paris Climate Agreement is achievable. Also on his first day on the job, President Biden signed an action to achieve 100% nationwide carbon neutrality by 2050 and 100% renewable energy production by 2035.
What this means for Michigan
Biden’s climate goals align nicely with action being taken in Michigan. Governor Whitmer’s MI Healthy Climate Plan announced in September 2020 puts Michigan on track for carbon neutrality by 2050. President Biden’s decision to rejoin the Paris Agreement means the U.S. will once again have concrete objectives to work towards and mechanisms to ensure those objectives are met as we battle climate change. This will ensure states like Michigan aren’t “going it alone” and allow for coordination and collaboration as we set out to meet our state-level climate goals.
Reinstating environmental protections weakened by the Trump administration & restoring trust in science
While in office, President Trump repealed more than 100 environmental standards and regulations, ignoring leading climate experts and negatively impacting the environment and our public health. President Biden took action on Day One to correct the course on critical environmental protections, including: revising emissions standards for automakers, and methane standards, that will help cut pollution; immediate action to protect special natural spaces; and revoking permits and stopping new operations for oil and natural gas transportation, specifically the Keystone XL pipeline, and exploration and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
He also re-established the Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Greenhouse Gases (GHG), which will ensure the full cost of emissions is taken into account in decision making, including climate risk, environmental justice and threats facing future generations. President Biden’s orders will place public health and our environment as top priorities, ensuring we have clean air and water well into the future.
What this means for Michigan
Environmental and public health issues are intersectional. Often the communities with the least agency are impacted the most. The environmental agenda of the previous administration completely ignored the fact that Black and Brown communities struggle with disproportionate levels of pollution that can cause serious health issues. President Biden’s action to reinstitute appropriate environmental protections, such as emissions standards, will help Michigan communities in Michigan that struggle with the repercussions of climate change and pollution on a daily basis. Additionally, as the auto capital of the world, Michigan is uniquely positioned to benefit from improved emissions standards, sparking ingenuity and creating clean energy manufacturing jobs.
Thirty By ‘30: Protecting public lands and fostering environmental justice
President Biden recently fulfilled the pledge he made last year to preserve nearly one-third of America’s public land and water by 2030. The “Thirty By ‘30 Plan” will preserve 30% of public land and water, ensuring that these areas will be protected and enjoyed for future generations. President Biden’s Executive Order on the “30 by 30” plan will reinstate protections on critical areas around the country while also placing a temporary moratorium on all oil and natural gas leasing activities, specifically in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Not only will the plan preserve land and water for the future, it will also help buffer against the accelerating impacts of climate change. Based on scientific estimates, preserving one-third of our land and water is the bare minimum that is needed to ensure that climate change does not inflict irreparable damage on communities that depend on the land and water around them for their way of life.
Along with preserving 30% of U.S. land and water over the next decade, President Biden’s order will formalize the administration’s commitment to environmental justice. The Biden administration has made an effort to put environmental justice being at the core of every agency’s working agenda. The order directs federal agencies to develop infrastructure to address the disproportionate health, environmental, economic, and climate impacts on disadvantaged communities while also creating a White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council and a White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council.
This renewed attention to addressing current and historical environmental justice issues will extend to the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Justice, and Department of Health and Human Services, and will be bolstered by the creation of the government-wide “Justice40 Initiative” aimed at delivering 40 percent of the overall benefits of relevant federal investments to disadvantaged communities and the implementation of an Environmental Justice Scorecard.
What this means for Michigan
Our beautiful state is home to countless natural spaces and areas that are intrinsic to our way of life, not to mention our name: “The Great Lakes State.” We are surrounded by 20% of the Earth’s fresh surface water, gorgeous natural sand dunes, hundreds of miles of stunning shoreline, and thousands of lakes, rivers and streams. President Biden’s commitment to preserve 30% of public lands by 2030 means that places and areas in Michigan that are deeply valued for recreation, sport, and for the subsistence of Michigan communities will be protected far into the future.
The order also means that environmental justice issues that are unique to Michigan will be afforded attention from the national level and additional resources from federal agencies that have been all but nonexistent for the past four years. Michigan communities, especially communities of color, have been acutely impacted by environmental and climate issues in recent times. From the ongoing Flint Water Crisis to the state’s most polluted zip code in Southwest Detroit, Michigan has had its fair share of environmental injustice. This order will allow for Michigan communities impacted by environmental injustices to be afforded more assistance and resources to rectify current injustices and prevent future ones from happening.
Investing in infrastructure and “building back better”
Another facet of President Biden’s early priorities is the implementation of his “Build Back Better” plan. As the country continues to struggle economically from the impacts of COVID-19, the plan will allow us to reinvest in our infrastructure to ensure we are hedging against the impacts of climate change while actively working to mitigate its effects and creating good jobs. By creating clean energy jobs and fostering the development of a cohesive green economy, the “Build Back Better” plan will also help in reaching the objectives outlined by the Paris Climate Agreement and the Biden administration’s climate plan.
What this means for Michigan
In addition to aiding in the fight against climate change, investments in infrastructure will help tackle PFAS and lead contamination issues and ensure clean drinking water. While Michigan recently adopted some of the nation’s most stringent standards for PFAS in drinking water, there is much more that still needs to be done. Governor Whitmer’s MI Clean Water Plan announced in Fall of 2020, which includes a $500 million investment in Michigan’s water service line infrastructure, goes hand in hand with what President Biden is implementing through his order. Investing in our water infrastructure will go a long way to ensuring that PFAS in drinking water is no longer something that Michigan residents have to worry about. In combination with the MI Clean Water Plan, President Biden’s action to invest in infrastructure will ensure that catastrophes like the Flint Water Crisis never happen again.