Climate Executive Order Aims to Tackle Issue Across Agencies, Remedy Climate Injustices

Statement by Angela Ledford Anderson, Union of Concerned Scientists

Published Jan 27, 2021

WASHINGTON (January 27, 2021)—President Joe Biden signed a sweeping executive order today aimed at addressing the climate crisis across government agencies in a just and equitable way.

Below is a statement by Angela Ledford Anderson, director of the Climate and Energy Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

“President Biden used his executive order authority to affirm what scientists have been saying for decades: climate change is not a distant crisis but rather one that has already reached our doorstep and can no longer be ignored. Its fingerprints are everywhere in the form of more intense hurricanes; a longer wildfire season; and worsening heat, floods and drought.

“Black, brown, Indigenous and low-income communities are among the most devastated by the climate crisis. The executive order takes steps to remedy this unfair burden by incorporating equity and justice throughout the climate agenda. New, high-level staff and interagency bodies have been created to elevate environmental justice issues across the federal government. These are hopeful signs that frontline communities will now have a seat at the decision-making table as equal stakeholders as the Biden administration endeavors to reduce global warming emissions and help communities prepare for unavoidable climate impacts. The executive order also requires at least 40 percent of all federal clean energy and climate resilience investments be directed towards communities of color and low-income communities, a long-overdue step toward righting past injustices and inequities. A climate and environmental justice screening tool will be developed to help focus these efforts.

“Over the last four years, fossil fuel CEOs have had free reign to continue their polluting business practices secure in the knowledge they wouldn’t be charged with violations—that ends today. The executive order instructs the EPA to once again enforce existing anti-pollution laws that safeguard our air, water and health. The directive to federal agencies to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies will help level the playing field for clean, renewable forms of energy. Fulfilling a campaign pledge, the administration has also instituted a temporary halt on new oil and gas leases on federal lands, which will be followed by a careful agency review to develop a long-term strategy. Directing federal agencies to invest in climate resilience and climate forecasting, as today’s executive order does, is also vital to preparing for and protecting the nation from the impacts of climate change.

“Additionally, the executive order’s creation of a White House Office on Domestic Climate Policy and the National Climate Task Force will make it easier to tackle the climate crisis across all economic sectors and within every corner of government. The administration also pledged to have the government lead by example, promising to electrify the federal fleet and procure zero-carbon electricity for federal agencies.

“The order establishes an interagency group to focus on economic revitalization, especially in coal and power plant communities, and to support workers and communities during the clean energy transition. This promising first step is consistent with the administration’s commitment to ensure the clean energy economy is a driver of good jobs with high labor standards and family-sustaining wages.

“In its efforts to limit the worst climate impacts, the Department of Agriculture can leave no stone unturned. The executive order has outlined some of their key policies to ensure farmers are a part of the solution when tackling the climate crisis. The administration must also help farmers and rural communities successfully adapt to the changing climate while ensuring all communities equitably share in the benefits of climate action.

“With these actions, the Biden administration has begun laying the foundation for significant action to limit climate change, and we look forward to working with them on these and additional priorities to Build Back Better. Congress must also play its part in advancing ambitious, just and equitable climate solutions.”

UCS released separate statements on the scientific integrity executive order and the announcement of a U.S.-hosted leaders’ climate summit slated for this spring.

The following UCS experts are also available to discuss today’s announcement or share their recommendations for future actions by the Biden administration and Congress:

  • Dr. Rachel Cleetus, policy director and lead economist in the Climate and Energy Program at UCS. Dr. Cleetus is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Full bio.
  • Dr. Adrienne Hollis, senior climate justice and health scientist in the Climate and Energy Program at UCS. Dr. Hollis is based in Washington, D.C. Full bio.
  • Michael Lavender, senior manager of government affairs for the Food and Environment Program at UCS. Lavender is based in Washington, D.C. Full bio.
  • Karen Perry Stillerman, senior strategist and analyst in the Food and Environment Program at UCS. Perry Stillerman is based in Washington, D.C. Full bio.
  • Dr. Jeremy Richardson, senior energy analyst at UCS. Dr. Richardson is an expert on just transition policies and is based in Washington, D.C. Full bio.
  • Dr. Ricardo Salvador, director of the Food and Environment Program at UCS. Dr. Salvador is based in Washington, D.C. and fluent in English and Spanish. Full bio.

For more information on policies the Biden administration and Congress can adopt to address the climate crisis, click here.

Here are the top four ways the Biden administration can center environmental justice reform.

Recommendations on science-based food and agriculture policies the Biden administration and Congress can adopt are available here.