January 27 was a day of liberation for climate science.
After being held hostage and muzzled for four years, the reality of climate change and the crisis it is inflicting upon all life on planet earth, our common home, was brought to center stage under the spotlight of scientific illumination and presidential resolve.
“Let me get to it. Today is ‘Climate Day’ at the White House…”
With that matter-of-factually stated pronouncement, the 46th President of the United States continued his roll-out of far reaching executive orders (most of them, including this one, to overturn orders of his predecessor). This one is a bold proposal intended to swiftly move us forward in the critical work of bringing our nation and the world back from the brink of climate chaos, creating jobs and pursuing environmental justice.
The Climate Day press announcement and signing of executive order took place in the White House State Dining Room. To people hungry for urgent movement rather than truth-starving retrenchment and thirsty for facts and justice rather than disinformation and denial, President Biden’s order, ‘TACKLING THE CLIMATE CRISIS AT HOME AND ABROAD,’ sounded like the prophet’s call to “Let justice roll down like waters…”
In essence, the President’s order is an invocation for a whole-government approach to put climate change at the center of our domestic, national security and foreign policy. He declared that in this administration environmental justice will be at the center of all they do. “It’s advancing conservation, revitalizing our communities, cities and on farm lands and securing environmental justice,” he stated.
Here is the section of the order that speaks directly to that matter of securing environmental justice, the work that Pittsboro Presbyterian Church as an Earth Care Congregation has claimed as part of its Mission:
Secure Environmental Justice and Spur Economic Opportunity
- The order formalizes President Biden’s commitment to make environmental justice a part of the mission of every agency by directing federal agencies to develop programs, policies, and activities to address the disproportionate health, environmental, economic, and climate impacts on disadvantaged communities.
- The order establishes a White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council and a White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council to prioritize environmental justice and ensure a whole-of-government approach to addressing current and historical environmental injustices, including strengthening environmental justice monitoring and enforcement through new or strengthened offices at the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Justice, and Department of Health and Human Services. The new bodies are also tasked with advising on ways to update Executive Order 12898 of February 11, 1994.
- The order creates a government-wide Justice40 Initiative with the goal of delivering 40 percent of the overall benefits of relevant federal investments to disadvantaged communities and tracks performance toward that goal through the establishment of an Environmental Justice Scorecard.
- The order initiates the development of a Climate and Environmental Justice Screening Tool, building off EPA’s EJSCREEN, to identify disadvantaged communities, support the Justice40 Initiative, and inform equitable decision making across the federal government.
The order also establishes a new White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy led by former EPA Director, Gina McCarthy. She will also chair the National Climate Task Force created to help deliver the whole-government approach to the climate crisis.
And taking a page from FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930’s, President Biden went on to call for establishment of a new Civilian Climate Corps. The intent is to “put a new generation of Americans to work conserving and restoring public lands and waters, increasing reforestation, increasing carbon sequestration in the agricultural sector, protecting biodiversity, improving access to recreation, and addressing the changing climate.”
This living tracker from the Washington Post provides a detailed look at everything President Biden has done thus far on climate, as well as the former President’s policies he’s reversed. It is an impressive summary of the damage that has been done and the hill that must be climbed to remediate the harm.
While this blog post has primarily addressed a single executive order regarding climate change, it might be well to conclude on a bigger picture question of the use of executive orders in general. While the former President signed many more executive orders in one term than his predecessor had signed in two terms, there has been immediate push-back from many GOP legislators and some media outlets (particularly one) about the current President’s use of such orders. In a recent press briefing, the White House Press Secretary, Jen Psaki, responded to such criticism. That response is found HERE.
While any power can be abused, it seems reasonable to expect that executive orders are used respectfully and responsibly when grave matters call for urgent action and when there is resistance (roadblocks) within the legislative branch to enact legislation on a bipartisan basis. The current state of affairs is a case in point.
All the more reason to reintroduce a prayer offered at the National Prayer Service and shared here in the prior post of January 26:
“Guide and bless senators and members of the House of Representatives that they may hear the people’s voice and be led to enact laws for the common good and the protection of the most vulnerable. Give them courage and force them to work together to serve the people of this nation faithfully and to fulfill our obligations in the community of nations. Keep this nation under your care.”