The days after Biden’s administration there seemed to be a certain amount of peace. At a time of so much anger, division, and living under constantly changing lockdown rules, this was a moment where everything just felt right in the world. No longer was I waking up and checking my phone, wandering what new story on the Trump Presidency was in the headlines. As I joked with a friend at the time, those first few nights at slept extremely well.
The last four years under Donald Trump have been an assault on the American natural environment and the laws and regulations designed to protect it. From shrinking the size of federally-protected national parks to rolling back emissions regulations for power stations, and opening up more environmentally-sensitive land to oil and gas drilling, to withdrawing one of the biggest polluters from the Paris Climate Agreement, Trump was hell-bent on reinvigorating a regressive and destructive form of energy production in the USA regardless of the environmental consequences. Whilst his message was often clear: “provide clean air, water and land to the American people, his actions under the EPA seemed anything but.
Anyone who recognises the importance of protecting the environment and tackling the growing climate emergency has probably been trying to deal with a growing level of stress and anxiety as four years of Trump has seen one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions move in the completely wrong direction to the climate action required. At a time where it’s critical that we act, we need everyone pulling in the same direction.
Of course, just because Trump has been removed from the Oval Office and replaced by Joe Biden doesn’t mean that the USA is automatically going to be prioritising the environment and tackling the climate change, it’s still going to take a monumental effort for everyone to be taking the action required to prevent some of the worst impacts of the climate crisis. We’re now a month in to the Biden Presidency, but how promising does the future look?
A Return to the Paris Climate Agreement
One of the few goals that Trump achieved during his time in the White House was to withdraw the United States of America, one of the world’s heaviest greenhouse gas emitters, from the Paris Climate Agreement. Agreed back in 2015, the agreement was one of the most promising global pacts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and push the action on the climate crisis at a time when doing so is more vital than ever. The USA had never ratified a global climate agreement like this before – Kyoto was agreed but never ratified by the Senate – but Barack Obama had managed it this time. It was a monumental achievement.
Trump claimed that the US signature on the agreement would hurt American business, mostly because the American economic system is still so reliant on fossil fuels and maintaining the status quo, not matter the environmental or social consequences. Trump pushed forward with his plans to ensure that America’s energy needs were entirely satisfied by oil and gas that was produced within the USA, opening some of the last remaining wildernesses to oil and gas exploration.
The fossil fuel lobby in the USA has poured millions into the campaigns of senators and representatives in order for them to have their voice in the political system. Whilst Trump may have been on the fence to begin with, a 2017 letter signed by 22 Republican senators seemed to push him over the edge and pull the USA out of the Paris Climate Agreement. These influential senators all have something in common – hundreds of thousands, and even millions, of dollars in donations from fossil fuel interests. This is what we’re up against.
Thankfully, many businesses, cities, and even US States refused to follow the Trump administration out of the Paris Agreement, instead producing their own plans that would see them aim to achieve the goals of the agreement and transition to a clean energy future. That, along with the slowdown in the manufacturing sector and less polluting transport on the roads and in the skies mean that the impact of a damaging Trump Presidency may not be quite as bad as many would have feared at the back in 2017.
Not only have the USA returned to the Paris Climate Agreement, but they have also John Kerry, one of the most important figures in the development of the agreement in 2015, acting as the climate envoy for Biden’s National Security Council. Given the national security issues that will become increasingly frequent on a warming planet, it’s a very important step to have someone who truly takes the climate emergency as serious as it is.
End of the Keystone XL Pipeline
The Keystone XL Pipeline has been one of the most controversial fossil fuel projects in the USA. Designed to transport crude oil to ports in the Gulf of Mexico, the almost 1,200-mile long pipeline started in Canada and would flow through many of the Mid-western US States, crossing through a huge number of environmentally-sensitive areas and Native American land, before reaching Nebraska where it would be connected to an already existing pipeline that transports oil towards the Gulf of Mexico. When Trump became President it took him no time to issue the required permits despite there being no environmental impact assessments or discussions with those that were affected by the construction of the pipeline.
There is already a pipeline transporting oil from the tar sands in Alberta towards the Gulf of Mexico, the original Keystone pipeline. The new pipeline would be more direct, so instead of currently going through Saskatchewan, North and South Dakota before getting to Nebraska, the Keystone XL pipeline would go from Alberta, through Montana and then into South Dakota and Nesbraka from there. Almost a decade of protesting for a pipeline that will do nothing more than get oil to Nebraska quicker than it does currently…
The original opposition to the pipeline came from environmental campaigners and those backing the rights of First Nations groups in both Canada and the USA. In Canada, the method of extracting oil from the tar sands is incredibly energy intensive and Environment Canada have found industry chemicals in the Athabasca River as well as groundwater sources in the area. In the USA, protests by indigenous peoples in Montana and South Dakota were met with an overly aggressive police response. In 2018, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and the Fort Belknap Indian Community sued the Trump Administration for illegally pushing forward with the construction of the pipeline, although even this was ignored by Trump when he issued a ‘presidential permit to move forward with construction.
To these people, the Biden administration repealing permits that allowed for the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline are seen as a huge win.
Some Canadians have hit back at Biden’s executive order to stop the construction of the pipeline. The pipeline was being built to transport crude oil from Canada to ports located around the Gulf of Mexico; a project that would open up US and Canadian oil to more of the world. It was a project that the Premier of the Province of Alberta even pushed billions of Canadian dollars of taxpayer money into constructing the pipeline after struggle gaining private-sector investment. The changing face of US politics and the very differing views between Democrats and Republicans on fossil fuel projects like the Keystone XL Pipeline meant that any investment was a risk.
It probably wouldn’t shock you to hear that many Republicans, including all of those that still believe the climate emergency isn’t an emergency, or even an issue at all, were up in arms about the impacts of Biden’s executive order in the Keystone XL Pipeline. The hysteria best summed up in Emily Atkin’s newsletter HEATED, led with construction job losses – said to be over 10,000. Whilst there would have been potentially thousands during the construction phase, in the long-term, the reality is is that there would have been just 35 permanent jobs once construction was completed.
There is no doubt that Republicans who don’t, or refuse to, see the long-term importance of stopping fossil fuel projects like the Keystone XL Pipeline will continue to beat the misinformation drum and spin Biden’s executive order as job-killing and economically destructive. However, the environmental and
Reversing Trump’s Regression
A huge number of further policies that Trump managed to push through during his time as President have also been reversed or are under agency review. The Guardian recently put together an outline of a number of environmentally-harmful pieces of legislation that were brought in under the Trump administration with the action that Biden has or is taking to reconsider or reverse Trump’s action.
Unfortunately, the actions taken under the Trump Administration were so damaging and so drastic that it will take time to undo the damage already done. Some, like returning to the Paris Climate Agreement and revoking permits on the Keystone XL Pipeline can happen quicker through the executive actions Biden took on his first day. Others will unfortunately require patience, even when there isn’t much time for it.
There will be those in US politics that drag there feet. Even with no majority in the House or Senate, Republicans are still dragging their feet and refusing to a smooth transition of power. Given the amount of money a lot of the receive from the fossil fuel lobby, a smooth transition and allowing Democrats to re-enforce the environmental regulations that existed back in the Obama era is the last thing they want – but fortunately there’s little they can do with democrat majorities across the political system.
The rantings of Fox News will no doubt continue too, no matter how much good work Biden does in environmental protection and tackling the climate emergency. Cries of socialism, and even communism, coming to America will continue to ring in the ears of those that still watch, despite there being no evidence that fully-fledged socialism will ever take hold in the USA.
Taking the Climate Crisis Seriously
This final point is still yet to be determined, but the evidence of Biden’s initial executive actions and the people he has placed into important climate-related roles shows that he is serious about taking action on the climate crisis during his presidency. He’s surrounding himself with people who are well positioned to advise on the most important environmental issues and has already committed to reducing USA emissions.
It hasn’t been all forward progress, however. Even in his first month there have been a few shaky moments with a number of permits approved for the drilling of oil and gas, for example. As with a lot of progressive legislation, it seems to be two steps forward and one step back. It perhaps shouldn’t be a shock that new oil and gas projects go ahead given the extreme dependency the majority of the USA still has with fossil fuels. Even as renewable electricity generation increases, fossil fuel projects will still go ahead despite the rising costs because of this dependency.
Thankfully, in the race against time to tackle the climate emergency, we’ve gone from someone who’s refused to run at all to someone who is at least moving in the right direction. All we need to do is make sure they continue running directly and as quickly as possible towards to a sustainable, low-emissions future.