MORGANTOWN – Among the torrent of executive actions that have poured out of President Biden’s office during his first 10 days are five on climate change. The Dominion Post asked three of our D.C. lawmakers and the Sierra Club to comment on those actions.
First, a little background. Altogether, Biden has signed 42 executive actions to date, including an all-time record (for this time in office) 28 executive orders. The Hill explains that executive actions include presidential memorandums, proclamations and executive orders. Executive orders are at the top of the heap, because they carry the force of law and can be litigated in court.
A White House fact sheet summarizes the climate actions.
One order is called “Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad.” It pauses the U.S. government from entering into new oil and gas leases on all public lands and in offshore waters, with tribal lands exempted, and is the chief thrust of this report. It also factors climate change into foreign policy and national security considerations, creates a National Climate Task Force across 21 federal agencies and deals with environmental justice, emissions reduction and clean infrastructure projects.
A second order establishes a President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. A third is titled “Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis.” It cancels the Keystone XL pipeline, previously reported on here, and reverses more than 100 Trump environmental actions.
A memorandum is titled “Restoring Trust in Government Through Scientific Integrity and Evidence-Based Policymaking.” The fifth action re-entered the Paris climate accord.
All three lawmakers replied to The Dominion Post’s requests for comment but sent prepared remarks. For the Sierra Club’s West Virginia chapter, Conservation Chair Jim Kotcon provided a statement, plus some comments of his own.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. talked about a conversation he had with White House officials regarding the federal land lease pause. They informed him that 53% of onshore acres leased and 77% of offshore acres leased have no active production.
“It is prudent to evaluate if taxpayers are receiving a fair return for the use of their resources. This executive order will not impact energy activity like drilling or permitting on existing leases.”
Manchin said, “I also reiterated my strong commitment to advancing innovative energy technologies in order to address climate change while maintaining our energy independence. Instead of elimination, we must instead focus on utilizing all of our resources in the cleanest way possible.”
Biden’s orders, Manchin said, commit the Biden Administration to focus on reinvesting in communities that have seen the loss of traditional energy jobs, like many in West Virginia. “’I intend to hold the administration to this while ensuring that the burden of any acceleration in already changing markets is not unduly placed on these communities that powered our nation to greatness. I stand ready to work with this Administration to ensure West Virginia communities see these much needed investments.”
Shelley Moore Capito
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., spoke on the Senate floor about the Biden actions and co-introduced a bill to prohibit the Departments of Interior, Energy and Agriculture from blocking leases and permits without congressional approval. The bill is called the “Protecting our Wealth of Energy Resources (POWER) Act of 2021.”
She said, “The Biden administration continues to sidestep Congress and enact executive orders that kill American jobs and attack our natural gas and oil industries. As our country continues to battle COVID-19, actions like this further deplete energy sectors in need of relief, and put our energy independence in jeopardy. This legislation creates a needed check on the Executive Branch, and makes certain that decisions like this are subject to debate in Congress and not rashly signed into action.”
On the floor, she said, “In his first actions, President Biden managed to kill thousands of jobs and paralyze America’s energy industry.” She added that his lease pause “is an economic, energy and national security disaster in my view. This order moves America from energy independence back to relying on foreign sources for fuel. And a lot of times these are the countries who have much laxer environmental policies than we have right here in the United States.”
Biden’s orders usurp states’ rights and disrupt their extraction tax revenues, she said. And she’s skeptical about Biden’s climate czars and cabinet picks, many who served under President Obama.
“I remember the thousands of jobs lost — and still lost — and the hopelessness and the succeeding opioid epidemic that followed. I remember begging the Obama EPA to come to West Virginia to see how these regulations — with no time to transition — were destroying more of our state’s economy. They were destroying families. They didn’t really seem to care. The only response I got in one of my hearings was that they’d come to Pittsburgh. Well, that’s not coming to West Virginia.”
In balance, she said, “I want to be part of the solution. I am not a climate denier. We all need to take care of our planet. … We can address climate change together though innovation and technology. … But a national energy transition really needs time.” And the administration needs to be clear about its timetable.
Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., said, “At a time when millions are struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the last thing we need are policies that will eliminate of thousands of good-paying American jobs, increase energy costs, and putting our economic and national security at risk.
“Stopping energy production on federal lands will have virtually no impact on our climate, and merely makes us more reliant on foreign energy sources. Did they consider the impact on states and communities who rely on this crucial revenue to fund schools, EMS services, and other essential local programs?
“These actions are just part of their broader effort to do away with fossil fuels no matter the consequences to our economy and our security. The people who live in communities across the country, from the coalfields of West Virginia to the oil patch of New Mexico, are just collateral damage. No window dressing of a working group to help these areas in the transition can change that.
“Instead of further destroying rural America and putting our economy at risk, we need to focus on policies that utilize innovation to reduce emissions while allowing us to use our rich supply of American energy.”
“The Sierra Club applauds President Biden’s recognition that justice and equity must be centered in our effort — at home and abroad — to address the climate crisis. The return of U.S. leadership in this space will set the example for how all countries need to center environmental and economic justice in their response to this global crisis. The Sierra Club is eager to support ambitious climate action that will set a strong Nationally Determined Contribution, accelerate the global coal phase out, and end all public finance of fossil fuel projects, monumental and necessary steps in the right direction.”
Kotcon said, “For me, the greatest thing about President Biden’s approach has been the emphasis on job creation, and the commitment to a Just Transition in fossil fuel dependent communities. His pledge that 40% of federal benefits for clean air and water infrastructure will go to communities disproportionately affected by climate change is clearly an acknowledgment that the coal and gas industries are a threat to our health. Putting people to work to protect health and the environment is certainly a step in the right direction.
“Many of West Virginia’s political leaders claim to be concerned about jobs, yet the fastest growing job categories in America have been in renewable energy, and W.Va. political leaders consistently ignore those opportunities. The result is that every surrounding state has more jobs in clean energy than West Virginia. Businesses that want clean energy are going to those states, not West Virginia.
“President Biden’s approach is grounded in sound science, recognizes the realities of the threats from climate change, and puts an emphasis on job creation, protecting public health, and building opportunities in communities dependent on fossil fuels.”
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