President Joe Biden made climate change and the environment one of the central focuses of his successful presidential campaign. On Wednesday, he put pen to paper to take action on combatting the climate crisis.

What You Need To Know

  • President Joe Biden signed three executive orders Wednesday related to climate change

  • Biden's actions included the creation of well-paying jobs related to clean energy, building “modern and sustainable infrastructure" and directing federal agencies to make evidence-based decisions guided by science

  • The Biden-Harris administration is elevating the climate change crisis to a national security priority, pausing new leases on oil and natural gas on federal lands and offshore waters, and conserving 30% of lands and oceans by 2030

  • The president said “we’ve already waited too long to deal with this climate crisis, and we can’t wait any longer"

Biden delivered remarks Wednesday and took executive action on a broad range of issues, including the creation of well-paying jobs related to clean energy and building "modern and sustainable infrastructure," as well as directing federal agencies to make evidence-based decisions guided by science.

Biden said "we’ve already waited too long to deal with this climate crisis, and we can’t wait any longer," pointing to wildfires that have devastated Western states, more intense hurricanes and tropical storms hitting the Gulf and East coasts, and severe floods and droughts in the Midwest.

He added that the Defense Department has said climate change is "a direct threat to more than two-thirds to the military’s operational critical installations," making the issue a matter of national security as well.

The president said tackling climate change is not a matter of choosing between the environment and the economy. 

"This is a case where conscience and convenience cross paths," Biden said. "We’re dealing with this existential threat to the planet and increasing our economic growth and prosperity are on in the same."

"We can put millions of Americans to work modernizing our water systems, transportation, our energy infrastructure to withstand the impacts of extreme climate," he added.

Among those jobs, he said, would be 1 million in the automobile industry that will be generated by the federal government replacing its fleet with zero-emission vehicles made in America. His plan also includes revitalizing the economies of coal, oil and gas, and power plant communities. 

"This is not a time for small measures,” he said. “We need to be bold."

"It’s a whole-of-government approach to put climate change at the center of our domestic, national security and foreign policy."

Of note, the Biden-Harris administration announced it is elevating the climate change crisis to a national security priority, pausing new leases on oil and natural gas on federal lands and offshore waters, conserving 30% of lands and oceans by 2030, and re-establishing the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

The conservation plan would set aside millions of acres for recreation, wildlife and climate efforts by 2030 as part of Biden’s campaign pledge for a $2 trillion program to slow global warming.

"President Biden set ambitious goals that will ensure America and the world can meet the urgent demands of the climate crisis, while empowering American workers and businesses to lead a clean energy revolution that achieves a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035 and puts the United States on an irreversible path to a net-zero economy by 2050,” the White House said in a statement.

Biden’s actions make clear that “both significant short-term global emission reductions and net zero global emissions by mid-century – or before – are required to avoid setting the world on a dangerous, potentially catastrophic, climate trajectory,” the White House said in a statement before the orders were signed.

The orders also reaffirm that Biden will host a Leaders' Climate Summit on Earth Day — April 22, 2021 — as well as establish a number of new offices, including the White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy, which will establish two new roles — national climate adviser and deputy national climate adviser; the White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council; and the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council.

A number of agencies will also designate a chief science officer “to ensure agency research programs are scientifically and technologically well founded and conducted with integrity.”

On Biden’s first day in office, he took a number of actions related to climate change, including rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement and revoking a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, as well as ordering reviews of 100 of the previous administration’s rollbacks of environmental regulations.

Biden will also launch a Civilian Climate Corps Initiative, not unlike the New Deal’s national conservation project, “to put a new generation of Americans to work conserving and restoring public lands and waters, increasing reforestation, increasing carbon sequestration in the agricultural sector, protecting biodiversity, improving access to recreation, and addressing the changing climate.” 

Biden’s policies will not be without criticism.

The president and his allies say the investment in cleaner energy will net millions of jobs. But that probably will take years to happen, and the orders will face intense opposition from oil and gas and power plant industries, as well as from many Republican — and Democratic — lawmakers. 

Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, which represents oil and gas drillers in Western states, said Biden’s actions are intended to delay drilling on federal lands to the point where it is no longer viable. Her group pledged a legal challenge. 

“The environmental left is leading the agenda at the White House when it comes to energy and environment issues,″ she said. 

She noted that the freeze would be felt most acutely in states such as Utah, Wyoming and North Dakota — all won by Trump.

“The fossil fuel industry has inflicted tremendous damage on the planet,” said Kierán Suckling, executive director at the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group that has pushed for the drilling pause. “The administration’s review, if done correctly, will show that filthy fracking and drilling must end for good, everywhere.”

Biden insisted Wednesday he has no plans to ban fracking.

Oil industry groups are slamming the move, saying Biden had already eliminated thousands of oil and gas jobs by killing the Keystone XL oil pipeline on his first day in office.

“This is just the start. It will get worse,″ said Brook Simmons, president of the Petroleum Alliance of Oklahoma. “Meanwhile, the laws of physics, chemistry, and supply and demand remain in effect. Oil and natural gas prices are going up, and so will home heating bills, consumer prices and fuel costs.″

A 60-day suspension order at the Interior Department did not limit existing oil and gas operations under valid leases, meaning activity would not come to a sudden halt on the millions of acres of lands in the West and offshore in the Gulf of Mexico where much drilling is concentrated. 

The freeze also is unlikely to affect existing leases. Its effect could be further blunted by companies that stockpiled enough drilling permits in Trump’s final months to allow them to keep pumping oil and gas for years. 

The pause in onshore drilling is limited to federal lands and does not affect drilling on private lands, which is largely regulated by states. Oil and gas extracted from public lands and waters account for about a quarter of annual U.S. production. 

Extracting and burning those fuels generates the equivalent of almost 550 million tons of greenhouse gases annually, the U.S. Geological Survey said in a 2018 study. 

Under Trump, officials approved almost 1,400 permits on federal lands, primarily in Wyoming and New Mexico, over a three-month period that included the election, according to an Associated Press analysis of government data. 

Those permits, which remain valid, will allow companies to continue drilling for years, potentially undercutting Biden’s climate agenda.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.