As part of a series featuring HLS faculty examining the first year of Biden’s presidency, Professor Richard Lazarus spoke with Harvard Law Today to share the achievements and shortfalls of the Biden administration’s first year and key challenges to its environmental agenda moving forward.
He began by highlighting the environmental protection measures that President Biden established on his first day in office, like rescinding Trump-era executive orders, and setting priorities for environmental regulatory programs to address environmental justice and climate change. Lazarus also commended Biden’s appointment of “highly qualified individuals to important environmental policymaking positions” in both the White House and federal agencies.
Professor Lazarus also identified key shortfalls of the Biden administration’s first year. First, the inability to secure support from Congress for urgent Build Back Better budgetary legislation “has proven to present a major obstacle” to the administration’s environmental agenda. Second, Professor Lazarus noted that environmental justice commitments and financial disclosure requirements have taken a backseat to other priorities for the administration.
As for challenges we can expect to see moving forward, Lazarus expressed concern about the future of the Biden administration’s environmental agenda given the obstacle of Congress, particularly if there is a significant shift in leadership after the mid-term elections later this year. He is also concerned about the barriers presented by the federal judiciary; without new legislation, the administration plans to rely on federal environmental statutes for regulation, and the potential for this is in the hands of federal judges who seem unlikely to rule that existing laws support the programs that Biden proposes. This case is one to keep an eye on.