U.S. PIRG - The Federation of U.S. Public Interest Research Groups

01/20/2021 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 01/20/2021 11:33

Statement: President Biden announces plans to set the U.S. on course toward a greener, healthier future

New administration unveils first set of initiatives aimed at following through on campaign promises to prioritize protecting the environment and addressing climate change

WASHINGTON - President Joe Biden has wasted no time in following through on several campaign promises related to protecting the environment and addressing climate change.

Among the actions he will take either Wednesday or within the week: require the United States to rejoin the Paris Agreement; cancel the Keystone XL pipeline permit; ban new oil and gas permitting on public lands, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; reimpose methane pollution limits for new and existing oil and gas operations; review Trump administration decisions to strip away national monument protections for such iconic locations as Grand Staircase-Escalante, Bears Ears and Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine national monuments; use the federal government procurement system to make facilities more reliant on clean energy and to purchase zero-emission electric vehicles; reestablish a working group on the societal cost of carbon; and begin the process of rescinding rollbacks on vehicle tailpipe emissions standards.

The president will also order the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to review several actions taken over the last four years that weakened clean water protections. These notably include the Dirty Water Rule, which put streams and wetlands at risk; weaker standards for coal ash and toxic pollution from power plants; and the recent update to the Lead and Copper Rule.

U.S. PIRG and Environment America have been at the forefront of campaigns for stronger environmental policies for decades, leading the charge for the adoption of renewable energy, clean transportation and the conservation of our public lands and oceans. In addition, late last year, the groups released 'First Things to Fix,' a list of environmental actions that the Biden administration should prioritize. With these actions, many of those 'first things' are being fixed.

Environment America Acting President Wendy Wendlandt issued the following statement:

'After four years of environmental setbacks, a new day has dawned. Today, President Biden showed us just how serious he is about his campaign promises to protect the environment and take bold climate action. There remains a lot of work to do, but the president has set us on a course toward a greener, healthier future.'

U.S. PIRG President Faye Park issued the following statement:

'When we put the environment at risk, we put the health of Americans at risk. Today's actions by President Biden will lead to a healthier environment and healthier Americans. We hope that this marks an inflection point where our federal policies match the nation's desire to build a healthier and safer future for ourselves, our children and our grandchildren.'

Additional experts from Environment America and U.S. PIRG issued the following statements on specific climate and conservation provisions:

Climate Change:

Paris Agreement

'By rejoining the Paris Agreement on day one, President Biden is sending a crystal clear signal to all Americans and to the world that the United States will once again lead when it comes to solving the climate crisis,' said Andrea McGimsey, Environment America's senior director for Global Warming Solutions. 'The days of dirty, fossil fuel-burning, 19th-century technology must be numbered in order to reach a cleaner tomorrow.'

Vehicle Emissions Standards

'With this action, there is hope again for cleaner cars and clean air in our communities,' said Environment America Destination: Zero Carbon Campaign Director Morgan Folger. 'While we transition to zero-emission vehicles, any cars that run on gasoline should have the strongest fuel economy and emissions standards possible to clean up our air and save consumers money. We applaud President Biden for beginning to undo the rollback of our nation's best climate program to date.'

Keystone XL Pipeline

'Cancelling the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline is a huge win for public health and the climate,' said Matt Casale, U.S. PIRG Environment Campaigns director. 'Building new infrastructure such as the pipeline, which would result in millions of tons of new carbon emissions, just adds fuel to a fire that's already burning down our house. We should invest in infrastructure that helps us build a cleaner and healthier America, not infrastructure that ties us to the dirty energy sources of the past.'

Clean Renewable Energy

'When the government leads the way on clean energy procurement, it smooths the road for everyone else to follow,' said Johanna Neumann, Environment America's senior director for Environment America's Campaign for 100% Renewable Energy. 'Directing the federal government procurement system - which spends $500 billion every year - to transition government facilities to clean energy and to purchase zero-emissions vehicles for government fleets will reduce harmful pollution and help speed up the adoption of clean energy technologies.'

Methane Regulation

'From the giant methane cloud released last year across to Florida to the ongoing release of this dangerous gas from the massive Permian Basin of Texas, it's clear that we must get polluters under control,' said Andrea McGimsey, Environment America's senior director for Global Warming Solutions. 'With this new direction, the Environmental Protection Agency is sending a clear message to oil and gas executives: You no longer get a free pass to damage the environment and health of your fellow Americans at your production sites. It's time to clean up your business and act on climate.'

Social Cost of Carbon

'From the heartbreaking flooding we've endured in our homes and businesses to the tragedy of entire towns burning down, the damage done by carbon pollution-inflamed climate change to the fabric of our everyday lives is inumerable,' said Andrea McGimsey, Environment America's senior director for Global Warming Solutions. 'We applaud President Biden for squarely putting the focus back on the social cost of carbon to every American because if we don't consider that part of fossil fuels' impact, we are turning a blind eye to an important facet of the problem.'

Conservation:

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

'Our wild spaces are part of the fabric of who we are as Americans and this decision to rethink fossil fuel excavation in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and elsewhere on public lands, represents a keen understanding by the new administration that these priceless places are too special to destroy for any amount of oil,' said Ellen Montgomery, Environment America Public Lands Campaign director. 'With renewable energy on the rise, we really do not need to drill for oil and gas in special areas such as the refuge. Instead, we can and should focus on protecting our public lands for the good of the species that live on them and for future generations.'

National monuments

'Protecting our most spectacular and special natural areas is an important part of our national identity as Americans,' said Protect Our Oceans Campaign Director Kelsey Lamp. 'From New England's deep sea coral gardens to the soaring spires of the Utah desert, we understand and appreciate the overwhelming value in conserving our natural heritage and safeguarding it for future generations. Recognizing what's at stake, we applaud the president's important first step toward restoring protections for some of our most special places, but know we still have a long way to go to ensure the health of our land and oceans.'

Clean Water:

Dirty Water Rule

'By ordering a repeal of the Dirty Water Rule, President Biden has taken a vital step for America's mighty rivers, majestic lakes and vibrant bays -- and for the drinking water of millions of Americans,' Environment America Clean Water Field Director Kristine Oblock said. 'Wetlands filter out pollutants, provide wildlife habitats and protect communities from flooding. The Dirty Water Rule left half of our nation's remaining wetlands -- as well as streams that feed our greater waterways and help provide drinking water to millions of Americans -- without federal protection. In short, the Dirty Water Rule was the worst rollback in the five decades since the Clean Water Act. We now look forward to working with the Biden-Harris administration to permanently restore federal protections to all of America's waterways.'

Lead and Copper Rule

'Lead is a potent neurotoxin that harms the way our children learn, grow and behave, and it has no place in our drinking water,' said Environment America Clean Water Program Director John Rumpler. 'Yet millions of homes with lead pipes -- and schools with lead-bearing faucets and fountains- - put our children's drinking water at risk. By ordering the EPA to take stronger action to stop widespread lead contamination, President Biden is taking a bold step to safeguard our drinking water. We urge the EPA to order the full replacement of all lead service lines within ten years. Our children's health depends on it.'

Coal Ash

'Arsenic, mercury, and lead have no place in the lakes where we swim, the rivers where we fish or the water we drink,' Environment America Clean Water Advocate Laura Miller said. 'Yet these toxins are contained in the ash from burning coal and put our water at risk. As highlighted in our Accidents Waiting to Happen report, several of these coal ash pits are located in flood zones, creating an additional risk of toxic overflows into our rivers during severe storms. Today, President Biden took action to protect our water from this toxic hazard. Yet more work remains to be done. Our rivers and streams will be much safer once we sweep coal ash into the dustbin of history.'

Toxic Water Rule

'Power plants account for 30 percent of toxic discharges to waterways, including arsenic, lead, mercury and selenium - a cancer-causing substance,' Environment America Clean Water Program Director John Rumpler said. 'By ordering the EPA to revisit the Trump administration's Toxic Water Rule (Steam-Electric ELGs), President Biden is taking a critical step to protect our rivers, lakes and streams. Hopefully, we can put an end to the absurdity of polluting water to create energy.'