• President-elect, Joe Biden has promised sweeping measures to make the U.S. economy carbon neutral by 2050.
  • His agenda will likely see the reversal of Donald Trump's legacy of climate deregulation.
  • Biden is expected to rejoin the 2015 Paris Agreement, work towards 100% clean electricity by 2035 and halt the Keystone XL pipeline.

Joe Biden has promised sweeping measures to make the U.S. economy carbon neutral by 2050 to put the United States on a path to cut emissions as deeply as scientists say is necessary to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

The agenda to reverse President Donald Trump’s legacy of climate deregulation would likely start with some easy wins, such as rejoining the Paris Agreement, but would become more complex as his administration ventures further into regulating greenhouse gas emissions down toward net-zero.

Here are some of the actions Biden could take:

Rejoin Paris agreement

Soon after the Jan. 20 inauguration, Biden will likely rejoin the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, which Donald Trump left, saying it was too expensive. While Biden promised in the campaign to commit the United States to net zero emissions by 2050, rejoining the Paris pact will put him under pressure to set a nearer-term goal of cutting emissions by 2030.

Climate Change Environment and Natural Resource Security United States
Biden promised in the campaign to commit the United States to net zero emissions by 2050.
Image: United States Environmental Protection Agency

Biden has said he wants to make a diplomatic push to persuade China, the world’s top greenhouse gas emitter, to stop financing coal plants through its Belt and Road initiative. Persuading other countries to cut emissions and to preserve their carbon storing forests will test the Biden administration.

Reversing Trump rollbacks

Biden will likely use executive orders to reverse Trump’s rollbacks of regulations. Potential targets include placing methane standards on oil and gas operations and the prevention of drilling in the Arctic.

Trump rolled back about 80 rules on the environment, dozens of which are related to standards on emissions or drilling and mining, according to a Harvard University Environmental & Energy Law Program tracker here.

How quickly Biden will issue executive orders and act on them may depend on how much drillers, still smarting from anemic fuel demand from the coronavirus pandemic, pressure his administration. Much of what Biden does by executive order could be reversed by a future Republican administration.

Green jobs

Biden proposed $2 trillion in spending over his first four-year term and achieving 100% clean electricity by 2035.

The extent to which he will achieve that plan to provide green jobs in infrastructure, such as building charging stations for electric vehicles and energy efficient housing, will largely depend on Congress. With it looking likely that Republicans will keep control of the Senate it would be unlikely Congress would pass a big climate bill anytime soon.

Still, some funds to build the green economy could be included in wider legislation such as an overdue package on coronavirus relief or an infrastructure bill, which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, says is one of her two big priorities and has long been a goal for Republicans.

And Biden could lean on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, a little-known independent panel of the Energy Department, to push through policy including decarbonizing the power grid by 2035.

Oil and gas

Trump tried to convince voters falsely that Biden would wipe out the oil and gas industry. Biden told reporters on Oct. 22 that fossil fuels would be around for a long time, but his plan to kill subsidies for the fuels would help reduce U.S. dependence on them.

Biden does not support a wide ban on fracking, a drilling technique that reaches big energy deposits, but wants to stop new oil and gas permitting on federal lands. Such a ban could be limited as fracking occurs mostly on private lands, and the move could be challenged in court.

Trump’s placement of Amy Coney Barrett on the Supreme Court increased its conservative majority to 6-3 and could present hurdles to Biden’s climate policy. The court could restrict the 2007 expansion of the Clean Air Act to include greenhouse gases that paved the way for Obama-era climate regulations. The court could also decide many cases on oil and gas pipelines.

Biden has also pledged to halt the Keystone XL pipeline that would transport crude from Canada’s oil sands, a project that Obama canceled but Trump revived. It is uncertain whether he supports efforts by progressives and Native Americans to stop the Dakota Access pipeline that has been caught up in legal battles.

Reporting by Timothy Gardner; editing by Richard Valdmanis and Grant McCool