Biden Marks U.S. Pivot From Trump on Climate by Talking Up Jobs

President Joe Biden signed a series of directives to combat climate change that he presented as a boost for U.S. employment, arguing that improvements in infrastructure and technology to curb global warming will add millions of jobs.

“Today is climate day at the White House which means that today is jobs day the White House,” Biden said Wednesday, as he unveiled measures aimed at fulfilling a campaign pledge.

The announcement marked the latest in a series of executive actions intended to quickly reverse some of the more controversial policies of his predecessor, Donald Trump, who rejected calls to address global warming and pulled the U.S. from the Paris climate accord.

Even as he cited the potential long-term jobs gains, Biden also took actions regarded as adversarial by the fossil fuels industry, among them halting the issuance of new oil and natural gas drilling leases on federal lands -- prompting an early legal challenge from the energy industry. His administration seeks to leverage federal regulations and purchasing power to fight climate change.

“In my view we’ve already waited too long to deal with this climate crisis,” he said before signing directives mandating that the federal government incorporate climate change considerations in everything from federal purchases to national security.

The actions he took on Wednesday, he said, will “supercharge our administration’s ambitious plan to confront the existential threat of climate change.”

Shifting to cleaner methods of transportation and power generation while reinforcing U.S. property and infrastructure against extreme weather from the changing climate would add millions of “good paying union jobs,” he said.

Opening Climate Response

The sweeping actions represent Biden’s opening foray to respond to a crisis his administration has described as on par with the coronavirus pandemic and systemic racial inequality. The president will host a global climate summit on April 22 -- which is Earth Day -- and has ordered a review of fossil-fuel subsidies and emissions targets.

“This is a case where conscience and convenience cross paths,” he said. “When I think of climate change, I think of answers to it, I think of jobs.”

The pause on new leases was a flashpoint during the presidential campaign, with former President Donald Trump attacking Biden regularly on the stump for a move that Republicans argue could kill jobs in states where fracking and oil drilling are key industries. About 22% of total U.S. crude supplies and 12% of U.S. natural gas came from federal lands and waters in 2019, according to the Energy Information Administration.

But Biden courted progressive supporters by promising to make a push to combat climate change central to his agenda. The White House has said the economic effects of acting on climate can be mitigated if tax subsidies for oil and gas companies are redirected to new, greener industries. But that effort -- like many of Biden’s climate proposals -- is likely to face opposition in Congress, where Democrats hold only narrow advantages in both chambers.

“We’re not going to ban fracking,” Biden said.

Automobile Purchases

Biden’s order directs federal agencies to purchase zero-emission power and automobiles, such as electric vehicles, as a way to “leverage the federal government’s footprint and buying power to lead by example,” according to a White House fact sheet. The U.S. maintains a fleet of 645,000 vehicles and operates nearly 10,000 buildings, according to the General Services Administration.

The Biden Administration is also planning to create new government commissions focused on climate, job creation and environmental justice. Biden will establish a climate-focused civilian conservation corps along the lines of the program created by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the Great Depression.

And Biden is committing to conserve 30% of U.S. lands and waters by 2030 and revitalize communities that have borne the brunt of pollution. It is unclear what form those protections might take but conservation could involve designating areas as wilderness, refuges or national monuments -- and walling such lands off from industrial development or even hiking and other recreational activity. The effort could even encompass private land, as Biden directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture to consider ways to encourage climate-friendly agricultural practices that help store carbon.

Environmental groups applauded the moves, saying they would restore forests and wetlands while reducing carbon output.

“Pausing new oil and gas leasing will improve the health of our communities, our climate and our wild places,” said Athan Manuel, director of Public Lands Protection at the Sierra Club.

Job Warnings

But critics, including energy companies and lawmakers from Western states that could be impacted by the leasing freeze, warned the actions would result in job losses.

Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon, a Republican, said the president’s moves “will divide and alienate the very working-class American communities with whom the Biden administration has pledged to unite.”

“It is clear President Biden has caved in to a loud segment of the Democratic Party that is pushing to require all policies and decisions to meet a litmus test of climate change, regardless of consequence,” Gordon said in an emailed statement. “There are bipartisan solutions available that support the people working in oil and gas on federal lands as well as reduce carbon emissions.”

Biden’s move is being challenged in court by the Western Energy Alliance. The group said it had filed a lawsuit in a Wyoming-based U.S. district court arguing that a leasing halt is an “arbitrary and capricious” move that violates federal laws, including a statutory requirement to hold quarterly sales of onshore leases.

The group isn’t the first to challenge Biden’s flurry of executive actions.

Texas sued the U.S. government just two days into Biden’s term after he ordered a temporary halt to most deportations of undocumented immigrants, a likely sign of what’s to come from other Republican-led states. A judge temporarily barred the Biden administration from proceeding with the deportation freeze on Tuesday.

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