WASHINGTON -- Following years of rollbacks, President Joe Biden began his term nearly a year ago amidst unprecedented environmental and public health challenges. Despite these obstacles, his administration has made significant strides toward restoring lost environmental protections and confronting daunting threats to our climate and public health, according to a new report by Environment America Research & Policy Center and U.S. PIRG Education Fund.
The progress report, President Biden’s First Year: A year of restoring lost environmental protections, documents the Biden administration’s work on 20 “priority actions” that enjoy broad support and have significant environmental impact. Although much of the media attention this past year has focused on big ticket bills like the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Build Back Better Act, which still has an uncertain fate in Congress, the actions highlighted in the report are worthy of recognition as well. These include:
- Rejoining the Paris Climate Accord, an international treaty to limit global warming.
- Setting new federal emissions standards for passenger cars and light trucks, a major driver of air pollution and climate change.
- Restoring protections for the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, Bears Ears, and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments.
- Releasing their Lead Pipe and Paint Action Plan, which details the administration’s plan to remediate lead paint and replace all lead pipes within the next decade.
- Placing a moratorium on oil and gas leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
“When President Biden took office last January, there was a tremendous sense of relief and hope from an environmental community that had been playing mostly defense at the federal level the past four years. This report shows those feelings were justified,” said Lisa Frank, executive director of Environment America Research & Policy Center’s Washington Legislative Office and co-author of the report. “Americans count on the federal government to safeguard the air we breathe, the water we drink and the public lands we enjoy, and on these fronts the Biden administration has made encouraging progress.”
While the report focuses primarily on actions taken directly by the Biden administration, it also highlights the impact of the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The president used his position to advance this important environmental legislation, which includes helping ensure America has clean water, improved power and transportation systems, and a down payment on a nationwide electric vehicle charging network.
“It’s no secret that President Biden started his presidency with significant ground to make up on the environmental front -- so far, he’s made good progress,” said Matt Casale, another co-author of the report and U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s environment campaigns director. “While there remains work to do, the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is a major accomplishment and its investments in public transportation, electric school buses and electric vehicle charging infrastructure will make a real difference across the country.”
While the administration has made some progress on nearly all of the 20 priority items, many remain unfinished, including stronger limits on methane and ozone pollution—two potent greenhouse gasses.
“There is no doubt that today we are in a better place from an environmental perspective than we were a year ago, but we still have a long way to go to ensure a stable climate for our kids,” Casale said.
Among other actions that remain on the to-do list is withdrawing the Trump administration’s offshore drilling plan, which would open nearly all U.S. waters to offshore drilling. The Biden administration has held large lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico, despite recent spills there and off the coast of California that are harming ocean life and fouling beaches. The administration also must implement its Lead Pipe and Paint Action Plan and address the millions of lead pipes still in use across all 50 states. Lead is a potent neurotoxin that is especially harmful to children.
“In 2022, we urge the administration to finish what it started in 2021,” Frank concluded. “With comment periods ending soon on methane pollution and protecting the Tongass National Forest, we hope to check those key priorities off the list in short order.”