Biden Poised to Reset Country’s Course on Climate Change

President-elect Joe Biden speaks at Gettysburg National Military Park in Gettysburg, Pa., Oct. 6. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

(CN) — The Trump administration has slashed U.S. environmental regulations to ease industry’s burdens. President-elect Joe Biden, meanwhile, has laid out an ambitious plan to protect the environment. The only question is where he should start.

Within his first 100 days in the White House, Biden says, his Office of Science Technology and Policy will publish a report identifying the most effective ways to improve air and water quality for as many people as possible.

He wants the U.S. to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and is calling for a $1.7 trillion federal investment in clean energy and green jobs over the next 10 years to achieve that goal.

If Republicans retain control of the U.S. Senate, Biden won’t get anywhere near that much funding. But experts say there is bipartisan support for infrastructure improvements that would bring immediate environmental benefits.

“We know that to get to 100% clean energy we’re going to need charging stations, we’re going to have to modernize the grid,” said John Rumpler, a senior attorney with Environment America.

As storms grow more severe, runoff from leaky and overburdened sewage systems is becoming a major problem across the country.

“We need to invest in repairing our sewage systems and preventing runoff pollution through green infrastructure that absorbs stormwater on site,” Rumpler said.

And sewage pipes aren’t the only ones that need to be replaced.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, several years after Michigan declared a state of emergency in Flint due to lead contaminating the city’s drinking water, there are still millions of lead pipes in America supplying water to homes and buildings. 

“This is the health and safety of our kids and the drinking water coming out of kitchen sinks,” Rumpler said. “And if we can safeguard our children’s future by removing these toxic lead pipes, that’s just a terrific thing that Congress and the Biden administration can do together in the first 100 days.”

Biden has vowed to update the nation’s environmental justice policies and establish an Environmental and Climate Justice Division within the Justice Department to bring charges against corporate polluters.

He claims such prosecutions have fallen to the lowest numbers in decades under the Trump administration.

Focusing on minorities living near refineries and chemical plants, Biden says his administration will create a data-crunching tool identifying communities struggling with the effects of industrial pollution, economic and racial inequalities, with plans to release annual maps of these places.

“The science is clear that air pollution like particulate matter and sulfur dioxide lead to increases in mortality and sickness, especially in communities of color,” said Al Armendariz, the Sierra Club’s senior director of federal campaigns and a former EPA official.

“Requiring large polluters to use modern pollution control technologies, like scrubbers to reduce sulfur dioxide pollution and baghouse filters to eliminate particulate matter emissions, will have immediate positive benefits to public health,” he added.

In just four years in office, the Trump administration has eliminated or rolled back more than 70 environmental regulations and rules.

Though Trump officially withdrew the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord on Nov. 4, Biden says that under his watch, as early as February 2021, the U.S. will rejoin the group of nearly 200 countries in their efforts to reduce planet-warming emissions.

Environmentalists say Biden’s Environmental Protection Agency should also implement long-delayed clean air regulations, especially in Texas, home to Vistra Energy’s Martin Lake Power Plant, the nation’s worst emitter of sulfur dioxide and mercury pollution, according to the Sierra Club.

Rumper, the Environment America attorney, said for the health of the nation Biden must immediately move to reinstate two rules implemented by the EPA under President Barack Obama, for whom Biden served eight years as vice president.

Within weeks of taking office, Trump announced he planned to rescind or change the Clean Water Rule of 2015.

“The Clean Water Rule restored protections of the Clean Water Act to thousands of streams across the country that provide drinking water for more than 117 million Americans,” Rumpler said, “and for wetlands that are vital to filter out pollution, prevent flooding in communities and provide wildlife habitat.”

Following challenges of the rule that reached the U.S. Supreme Court, the Trump administration replaced it with one that more narrowly defines waters that fall under federal jurisdiction.

In addition to the Clean Water Rule, Rumpler said, Biden should reinstate a 2012 rule mandating new vehicles average 54 miles per gallon by 2025, implemented to encourage automakers to produce more electric cars.

Under the Trump administration’s revamp, finalized in March, the required benchmark for automakers is projected to be 40.5 miles per gallon for model year 2030 vehicles.

Environmental groups have widely praised Biden for developing the strongest ever presidential plan to address climate change.

Armendariz, with the Sierra Club, is confident Biden will deliver on his climate goals regardless of any roadblocks in Congress, building on the progress he made alongside Obama.

“He delivered a mandate for executive action no matter what happens in Congress — or who is in control. It’s time to advance new policies, not just repeat old ones,” Armendariz said.

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