Environmentalists are eager to see major shifts on climate and conservation policies from the incoming Biden administration, but political constraints and the realities of federal rule-making could limit or bog down some of what is possible in the next couple years.
President Trump’s term has been a bleak chapter for environmental advocates and Biden’s election marks a chance for a 180-degree turn. The Trump administration put a heavy emphasis on slashing red tape and bolstering fossil fuels, as the president downplayed concerns about climate change despite scientists' dire warnings about its effects.
Trump’s legacy includes actions like relaxing emissions standards for power plants and vehicles, rolling back requirements related to methane releases from oil and gas producers, chopping about 2 million acres from two national monuments in Utah, and withdrawing the U.S. from the international climate pact known as the Paris Agreement.
Biden, on the other hand, has described climate change as “an existential threat” and outlined a platform that includes a range of programs aimed at getting the nation to a “100% clean energy economy” and “net-zero emissions” by 2050.
The president-elect has staked out support for tightening vehicle fuel economy standards, speeding up the transition toward electric vehicles and imposing tough limits on methane pollution from the oil and gas industry. Biden has also embraced ambitious targets for conserving land and water over the coming decade. And he says he’ll reenter the Paris accord.
Some changes expected from Biden could alter how the EPA operates. Janet McCabe, a law professor at Indiana University and former acting assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation under Obama, highlighted Trump administration efforts to change guidelines the agency uses when making rules as a cause for concern.
The focus here, she explained, has to do with the Trump administration moving to limit the science and studies the EPA can rely on when making rules and also reworking how the agency carries out cost-benefit analyses. The changes pushed by the administration in both areas, she said, are “hugely consequential” and strike at the agency’s “institutional underpinnings.”
“Those don’t apply to a single program. They potentially apply to every program,” McCabe added.