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Biden Orders Put Climate Front and Center


Wednesday, January 27, 2021   

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- President Joe Biden today is to sign a number of executive orders, directives and memoranda ramping up his administration's focus on fighting climate change.

The actions include a ban on new oil and gas drilling on federal land, a task force to create a government-wide action plan to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, and new commissions focused on environmental justice and green job creation.

According to Rabbi Daniel Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, the moves reflect an understanding that the climate, economic growth and environmental harms to communities of color are all connected.

"There's a recognition that you have to be thinking about climate not just in one particular place but across agencies," he said, "and there's a recognition of this crucial problem of environmental justice."

The state's Department of Environmental Protection has said Pennsylvania is getting warmer and rainier as a result of climate change, affecting agriculture and other industries. However, oil-and-gas producers and some landowners have said curtailing fossil-fuel extraction will be harmful to the economy.

The president also is directing the federal government to conserve 30% of all federal land and water by the end of the decade, a move Schwartz said will contribute to both climate mitigation and environmental justice.

"By intelligently conserving large swaths of land," he said, "we can make our environment more stable, more resilient, and also benefit human communities that have been underserved."

At least 50 countries have committed to a proposal to protect 30% of the earth's surface by 2030 that was released by the United Nations in January 2020.

Environmental groups are concerned that regulatory processes can't accomplish the large reductions in carbon emissions that are needed. And Schwartz pointed out that executive orders easily can be overturned by a change in administrations.

"We have to move these to legislation and not just executive orders," he said, "but the executive order is, at least, a good jump-start."

Biden also is expected to restore an Obama-era memorandum, eliminated by the Trump administration, that makes climate change a national security priority.

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