High Priority Regulatory & Executive Actions
The following policies are top priority actions for the incoming administration. The items are listed by agency or office. These are our best estimate of “consensus” priorities based on our expertise, analysis of priorities from other expert sources, overlap with Biden campaign commitments, and actions taken by Trump that need to be addressed. We do not internally rank them. More information on many of these items can be found in our regulatory rollback tracker and EPA Mission Tracker.
Executive Office of the President
Social Cost of Carbon (OMB)
- President Biden should reestablish the interagency working group to calculate a “social cost of carbon” for agency cost-benefit analyses. The social cost of carbon should accurately reflect the social benefits of greenhouse gas reductions. Redirecting agencies to consider the social cost of carbon will provide important regulatory leverage for those agencies to take actions that minimize or reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Trump administration disbanded the Interagency Group on the Social Cost of Greenhouse Gases, and is no longer encouraging or directing agencies to consider the social costs of carbon pollution.
National Parks & Marine Sanctuaries – Antiquities Act Designations (DOI-BLM; Commerce)
- President Biden should rescind President Trump’s actions reducing the scope of these designations and revert to the more expansive designations established under the Obama administration. Litigation challenging President Trump’s authority to shrink or eliminate monuments designated by a previous president is ongoing.
National Environmental Policy Act Implementing Regulations (CEQ)
- President Biden should direct the Council on Environmental Quality to restore the full scope of NEPA and strengthen public participation in the process as an important first step to advance environmental policy across the administration. These regulations guide agency implementation of NEPA and determine the scope of projects, impacts, and alternatives to be reviewed. The Trump administration adopted revised regulations that limit the projects that must be reviewed, narrow the scope of review, and reduce the impacts and alternatives considered.
Department of Energy
Energy Conservation Standards for Appliances (Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy)
- The Biden administration should restart the consensus-based process for setting appliance efficiency standards and strengthen standards that have languished during the Trump administration. These standards keep pace with technology to ensure we are using energy efficient products and have the potential to reduce GHG emissions dramatically by reducing energy use. Some of these standards were stalled or withdrawn under the Trump administration.
Environmental Protection Agency
Defining “Waters of the United States” (Office of Water)
- The Biden administration should reinstate a more expansive definition based on hydrology and water quality considerations. These regulations determine which waterways and wetlands receive Clean Water Act protections. Restoring protections to ephemeral streams and more wetlands will improve water quality and ensure that wetlands can serve important functions like absorbing floodwater and providing wildlife habitat. The Trump administration’s rule excludes ephemeral streams, which flow in response to rainfall and are an important part of Western watersheds, and removes protections for many wetlands.
Chlorpyrifos Regulations (Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention)
- The Biden administration should consider whether to restrict and ban the use of chlorpyrifos. There is mounting evidence of its neurotoxicity to children and pregnant women, and the Trump administration has allowed its continued use.
Coal Ash Standards under RCRA and the CWA (Office of Water)
- The Biden administration should adopt updated regulations that build on the data collected under the 2015 rule to meaningfully address coal ash impoundments that are leaking into groundwater across the country. Coal ash, a byproduct of burning coal for electricity, contains heavy metals like mercury and arsenic and poses serious environmental and health risks when not regulated properly. The standards for coal ash management created under the Obama administration were ruled to be insufficient, and the Trump administration has simultaneously tried to comply with a court order to strengthen those regulations while finding other ways to weaken them and extend compliance timelines.
Drinking Water Standards for Lead and Copper, Perchlorate, and PFAS (Office of Water)
- The Biden administration should update existing drinking water standards to reflect new science, review the Trump EPA’s proposed revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule, and strengthen partnerships with states and tribes to improve monitoring and enforcement of national standards. The water crisis in Flint, Michigan highlighted the gross economic and racial disparities in drinking water quality and infrastructure in the US that need to be proactively addressed. The Trump administration has issued proposed revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule maintaining the action level at 15 µg/L despite EPA’s own findings that there is no safe level of lead exposure.
Coordinated Regulatory Plan for Hydrofluorocarbons (Air & Radiation)
- The Biden administration should address the use of HFCs, ideally phasing out their use, and ensure they are not leaking from sources that continue to use them. We need to look at new ways to regulate HFCs and/or to ratify the Kigali Amendment under the Montreal Protocol which would give EPA a clear path to phase down HFCs. HFCs were used as a substitute in refrigeration and air conditioning for ozone depleting substances before we realized they are a very potent GHG. EPA adopted two regulations for HFCs under the Obama administration; one was partially struck down by a court and one was reversed under the Trump administration.
GHG Emission Standards for Light and Heavy-Duty Vehicles (Air & Radiation)
- The Biden administration should update EPA’s emissions standards for GHGs from light and heavy-duty vehicles to reflect the urgent need to reduce emissions from this sector. Transportation is the largest source of GHG emissions in the US; the largest sources of transportation CO2 emissions in 2018 were passenger cars (41.2%); freight trucks (23.2%); and light-duty trucks, which include SUVs, pickup trucks, and minivans (17.4%). The Trump administration weakened standards for light duty vehicles and proposed a repeal of the emissions limits for glider trucks.
Oil & Gas Methane / VOCs Standards for New & Existing Sources (Air & Radiation)
- The Biden administration should re-issue methane and VOCs emissions standards for new and modified oil and gas facilities and then move forward with establishing standards for existing sources. Emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, from oil and gas development has been a persistent problem for the natural gas industry as it offsets some of the benefits of using natural gas to produce power instead of coal. Recent studies have indicated the methane released from oil and gas production, whether from venting or leaks, is significantly higher than previously estimated. Two rules finalized by the Trump EPA eliminated methane emissions standards for oil and gas production facilities, eliminated VOC emissions standards for transmission and storage facilities, and weakened the remaining VOC standards for production and processing facilities. The Trump administration rules also prevent EPA from moving forward with emissions standards for existing facilities.
Accelerated Review of Ozone and PM NAAQS (Air & Radiation)
- The Biden administration should prioritize updating these standards based on the best available science. EPA sets National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for six common and harmful air pollutants, including ground-level ozone and particulate matter (PM). EPA must review and update the NAAQS every five years based on current science to ensure air quality standards continue to adequately protect public health. The Trump EPA, however, has refused to update the NAAQS for PM and ozone.
Power Plant GHG Emissions Standards for New & Existing Sources (Air & Radiation)
- The Biden administration should revise these standards to substantially reduce emissions from the electric sector and put the US on a path toward 100% clean energy. These standards regulate the amount of carbon dioxide emitted from new and existing power plants, our second largest source of GHG emissions. The Trump administration has not yet finalized its proposed revision of the GHG emissions standards for new coal-fired power plants. The standards for existing power plants under Obama, known as the Clean Power Plan, were replaced by the Affordable Clean Energy Rule under Trump.
Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science Rule (if finalized by Trump EPA) (Office of Research & Development)
- The Biden administration should prioritize eliminating this rule, whether it remains proposed or is finalized before January 20, 2021. The Trump EPA’s proposed rule, Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science, would require the agency to only rely on scientific studies where the underlying data is publicly available. The rule lacks a legitimate rationale fails to define key terms and processes, and rests on shaky legal authority. If finalized, the rule would make it more difficult for EPA to enact new air and water rules because many public health studies rely on confidential medical records.
Department of the Interior
ESA Protections for Threatened & Endangered Plants & Wildlife (Fish & Wildlife Service)
- The Biden administration should reconsider all Endangered Species Act rules proposed and finalized under the Trump administration and potentially revise or withdraw them to ensure the regulations uphold the Act’s goals. The Endangered Species Act protects threatened and endangered species and their habitats from further harm and is meant to ensure that species recover rather than go extinct. The Trump administration recently finalized three rules modifying the procedures for listing species, designating critical habitat, providing protections to threatened species, and directing agency cooperation, as well as proposing two rules focused on .
Stream Protection Rule (Surface Mining, Reclamation & Enforcement)
- The Biden administration should adopt a new version of this rule to protect water quality in areas where mining occurs. The Clean Water Act does not cover all streams and protect them from pollution. Communities near mining activities often rely on wells and small systems for drinking water; wildlife and aquatic life, as well, depend on these streams. This rule protected streams near surface, underground, and mountaintop removal mining from harmful levels of pollution related to the mining process and mining waste.
Methane Waste Prevention Rule (BLM)
- The Biden administration should take action to control methane venting, flaring, and leaking from oil and gas operations on federal and Tribal lands. Methane is often vented or flared during oil and gas extraction and production and can leak from production equipment. The Obama administration issued a rule in 2016 designed to limit venting, flaring, and leakage from oil and gas operations on federal and Tribal lands. The Trump administration rolled back the Obama-era requirements with a new rule. Both rules have since been vacated by federal district courts. The Biden administration will have to contend with ongoing litigation related to those decisions when considering how to move forward with possible rulemaking designed to prevent waste by capturing methane from these operations.
Offshore Venting, Flaring, and Leaks (BOEM)
- The Biden administration should reconsider the Trump administration’s offshore air quality rule and revive some of the changes in the 2016 proposal. BOEM proposed a new offshore air quality rule in 2016 that would have tightened pollution standards for offshore operations and required improved pollution control technology. The proposed rule would have included the first updates to these regulations since 1980. After the Trump administration instructed the agency to reconsider the proposal, it finalized a rule in June 2020 that did not include any substantial emissions limiting measures, largely gutting the original proposal.
Offshore Wind Permit Approvals (BOEM)
- The Biden administration should prioritize the development of offshore wind in federal waters. Demand for offshore wind development has only continued to increase in the last few years as coastal states look to wind to meet clean energy goals. BOEM has continued to lease federal areas for development, but large-scale facilities planned have yet to reach completion as the permitting process remains slow. A Biden administration could renew the focus on offshore wind, improve the agency’s resources for meeting the permitting demand, and consider revisions to the process with the goal of seeing these projects make it to the construction phase.
Five Year Plan for Offshore Leasing Plan (BOEM)
- The Biden administration should revive the protections put in place by President Obama that withdrew significant areas of federal waters from availability for leasing and prepare a new five-year plan for offshore leasing. In an executive order, Trump reversed Obama’s decision to remove areas in the Arctic and Atlantic from leasing for oil and gas development. BOEM then started to develop a new Five Year Leasing Program, the proposed draft of which indicated the administration planned to open nearly all federal offshore waters to leasing. Trump’s efforts to do so were put on hold when a federal district court determined he could not legally reverse Obama’s decision to remove areas from leasing under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA). This decision has been appealed.
Department of State
Paris Climate Agreement (Office of Global Change)
- President Biden should rejoin the US to the Paris Agreement and develop a new ambitious “nationally determined contribution” that exceeds President Obama’s 2015 pledge of 26-28% below 1990 levels by 2025. The US is the second largest GHG emitter globally, and the largest historical emitter. US participation in the Paris Agreement demonstrated our intent to cooperate globally in reducing our emissions and helping other countries reduce theirs. The Trump administration withdrew the US from the Agreement.
Department of Agriculture
Carbon Bank to Finance GHG Reduction & Carbon Sequestration (Commodity Credit Corporation)
- The Biden administration should establish a carbon bank to buy carbon tons and greenhouse gas reductions from producers and forest landowners through a reverse auction. These purchases will promote improvements in land management and natural carbon sequestration activities. Sequestration and emission reductions in forest and agriculture can provide 10-20% of the reductions needed to meet net zero emissions by 2050. The Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) has broad authority to support and protect farm income and prices and to support this conversation.
Climate Smart Practices Through Land Conservation Programs (Farm Services Agency)
- The Biden administration should help to finance climate smart practices on farms, ranches, and forests. These practices can play a significant role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, however, many of these practices require upfront investment, including conservation tillage, cover crops, improved nutrient management, and methane digesters. Using existing Farm Bill conservation programs like the Conservation Reserve Program and Regional Conservation Partnership Program, the Biden administration can help provide that investment.
Reforestation Targets (Forest Service)
- The Biden administration should expand forest restoration priorities to include reducing risks to people and property, improving watershed health, maintaining long-term carbon sequestration on Forest Service lands, and increasing the use of prescribed fire to reduce fuels and improve forest health. These actions can both increase carbon sequestration and lower the fire threat. Such targets could be achieved through a collaboration between the Forest Service, Interior agencies, and state agencies.
Permits for Keystone XL, Dakota Access PL, and Other Pipelines
- The Biden administration should create a policy for addressing new fossil fuel infrastructure based on the need to transition away from fossil fuel extraction and use. In that policy, the administration should specifically address the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. The Keystone XL Pipeline is still in early construction phases. The Biden administration could revoke its presidential permit by executive order. The Dakota Access Pipeline has been built, but it is in limbo due to ongoing litigation that vacated its easement to cross waterways. President Biden could direct the Army Corps of Engineers to order the Dakota Access Pipeline to stop operating until its court-ordered Environmental Impact Statement is completed.