President Joe Biden has signed executive orders drawing the entire federal government into the fight against climate change.
The executive orders and directives task the government with taking on the climate crisis as a national security issue, with each level of government working to reduce climate change impacts while investing in measures that will encourage the establishment of a clean energy economy.
Defense installations, federal buildings and vehicles, power plants and other initiatives in Indiana could be affected by the new orders.
“In my view, we’ve already waited too long to deal with this climate crisis. We can’t wait any longer. We see it with our own eyes. We feel it. We know it in our bones, and it’s time to act,” Biden said during a press conference announcing the executive orders. “We know what to do. We’ve just got to do it.”
A NATIONAL SECURITY ISSUE
The order officially establishes the White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy, led by National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy, and establishes a 21-agency National Climate Task Force to facilitate climate change decisions throughout member agencies.
The order puts climate change at the center of U.S. national security and foreign policy.
According to Biden, the Department of Defense reported that two-thirds of the military’s critical operational installations are directly threatened by climate change impacts, making it a national security issue.
Newly confirmed defense secretary Lloyd J. Austin III agreed that climate change has had a “dramatic effect” on the military’s missions, plans and installations.
“We know first-hand the risk that climate change poses to national security, because it affects the work we do every day,” Austin said in a press release. “In 2019 alone, the department assessed climate-related impacts to 79 installations and in every geographic Combatant Command area of responsibility.”
A Government Accountability Office report found the Defense Finance and Accounting Service headquarters in Indianapolis was vulnerable to climate change-induced drought, which could have broad implications for the facility’s infrastructure and upkeep.
The order also directs the Director of National Intelligence to prepare a National Intelligence Estimate on the security implications of climate change.
REDUCING FOSSIL FUEL DEMAND
Biden’s executive order also focuses on administrative decisions that will have far-reaching implications on greenhouse gas emissions sources, widely accepted as the cause of climate change, and building a clean energy economy.
Biden ordered federal agencies to use carbon pollution-free electricity and zero-emission, American-made vehicles. Agencies will also have to develop plans to increase the climate change resilience of its facilities and operations and report on ways to improve climate forecast capabilities.
Federal buildings and vehicles use about 947 trillion BTUs of energy, or about 277,538 Gigawatts of energy, per year. That’s almost the equivalent of the electricity used in the entire state of Indiana in 2018, 1,093 trillion BTUs.
The mandated switch would reduce demand for electricity produced by coal-fired power plants, which produced between 60 and 161 Gigawatts of electricity per hour in 2020.
Coal-fired electricity generation has been on the decline in the U.S. since at least 2010. Several Indiana power suppliers, like Northern Indiana Public Service Company and Indianapolis Power & Light Co., have begun to transition away from coal-fired generation and investing more in renewable sources of energy.
The order also pauses new oil and natural gas leases on public lands and offshore waters and orders the Interior Department to launch a review of all existing leasing and permitting practices related to fossil fuel development on public lands and waters. The Interior Department will also have to determine how offshore wind energy production can be doubled by 2030.
“Here at home we have to do our part or we will not be able to make the kind of worldwide change that climate change demands,” said McCarthy. “We’re going to power our economy with clean energy. We’re going to do that in a way that will produce millions of American jobs that are going to be good-paying.”
Despite a commitment to clean energy, Biden said his administration would not ban hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” the process of injecting chemical mixtures at high pressure into shale formations underground to extract oil or gas. Some of the additives in the chemical mixtures can be toxic or fatal.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2015 issued a report, later dismissed by the Trump administration, that found fracking could contaminate local drinking water sources.
Biden said he would instead impose stronger standards on fracking, remove billions of dollars in subsidies given to the oil industry every year and build up the clean energy sector for fossil fuel industry workers to transition to.
“We’ll protect jobs and grow jobs including through stronger standards like controls for methane leaks and union workers willing to install the changes,” Biden said “Unlike previous administrations, I don’t think the federal government should give handouts to big oil to the tune of $40 billion in fossil fuel subsidies. I’m going to go to the Congress, asking them to eliminate those subsidies. We’re going to take money and invest it in clean energy jobs in America, millions of jobs in wind, solar and carbon capture.”
The order also mandates that federal money used for infrastructure must reduce climate pollution and that siting and permitting processes for clean energy and transmission projects must be sped up in an “environmentally sustainable manner.”
National environmental justice groups like Earthjustice, Sierra Club and Corazón Latino said they approved of the Biden administration’s actions to fulfill campaign promises and their stated commitment to combatting the climate crisis.
“One week in office and President Biden is already making good on his promise to prioritize bold climate action and environmental justice. It will take unrelenting focus across the entire federal government to make up for all the time we have lost, and today’s executive order provides the blueprint,” said Earthjustice president Abigail Dillen.