Priorities for a Biden/Harris Administration: Day One Steps, Paris Agreement, Environmental Justice, and EPA and DOI Actions

In anticipation of the 2020 presidential election, we spent time this summer and fall examining climate, energy, and environmental priorities from the Biden/Harris campaign, surveying proposals made by outside experts, and reviewing our own work tracking the Trump administration’s regulatory changes.

We have organized potential executive branch policy actions into several useful lists:

How we compiled the lists

The “top priorities” list reflects our best judgment of the most important “to-do” items, based on our expertise and our review of the sources cited above (the campaign itself, other expert reports and analyses, and the Trump administration’s regulatory rollbacks). We do not internally rank them, but expect that major climate rules—including greenhouse gas emission standards for power plants, vehicles, and oil and gas operations—to be at or near the top of the list.

The “Day One” list identifies a subset of policies that could be initiated immediately. This list draws on several sources: the Biden campaign pledges; our own regulatory rollback tracker; “Climate 21” policy suggestions (the EPA chapter of which we coauthored); and recommendations from the Environmental Protection Network.

The policies listed as important for the Paris Agreement have the potential in our view to contribute significantly to a new U.S. pledge (known as a “nationally determined contribution”) either because they are likely to produce substantial emissions reductions, or because they can establish carbon sinks. We do not quantify the potential impact of these policies, but we expect that the agencies with the legal authority to implement them will do so, as part of a process the administration will undertake to update the 2015 U.S. pledge to reduce emissions 26-28% below 1990 levels by 2025. That process will unfold in the months leading up to the next Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, to be held in Glasgow, in November 2021.

The Environmental Justice policies have, in our view, the potential for meaningful environmental or social justice benefits, although we do not quantify that potential, or rank the policies relative to each other. Criteria for inclusion on this list are: whether the policy explicitly addresses environmental inequity; has a nexus to Tribes; concerns air pollution, water pollution, or pesticides, which disproportionately burden minority and farmworker communities; arguably touches low income communities regardless of race, or a labor constituency; relates to enforcement, since underenforcement disproportionately affects minority communities.

Finally, we report the EPA and DOI action items separately because these two agencies will be especially important for restoring environmental and natural resource protection, and advancing a climate and clean energy agenda.