Six Things Biden Must Do Right Now to Fight Climate Change

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Photo CC-BY-SA Gage Skidmore
by Mia DiFelice

In February 2023, President Joe Biden marked the halfway point of his term with his State of the Union address. The address was light on climate, and what climate talk there was focused mostly on the lackluster Inflation Reduction Act. In the speech, he called climate change an “existential threat” — but he hasn’t done enough to treat it like one.

Right now, we have a Supreme Court and a divided Congress unlikely to make meaningful progress on climate. But with his executive powers, Biden could respond to the climate crisis — and intertwined food and water crises — with the urgency they call for. Here’s how:

1. Declare a Climate Emergency

With an executive order, Biden can declare climate change a national emergency. That would unlock several key powers to respond to the emergency — notably, reinstating our ban on crude oil exports

Oil exports have taken our energy markets for a spin, pinning prices to global crises like the war in Ukraine. Banning exports would help insulate our energy prices from shocks, while forcing oil and gas companies to cut down their production and their climate pollution.

Biden has already called climate change “an emergency.” But he must officially declare it one to unlock those emergency powers. 

2. Ban Fracking on Public lands

Before stepping into office, President Biden promised to ban fracking on public lands. But he’s yet to follow through. In fact, in the past two years his administration has approved thousands of oil and gas leases.

Shutting down oil and gas on public lands should be a no-brainer. More than a quarter of U.S. climate pollution comes from fossil fuels extracted from public lands and waters. Moreover, fossil fuel operations endanger the wildlife and environment we’re supposed to be protecting.

3. Stop Dirty Infrastructure Projects

The administration can and should direct federal agencies to stop permitting new fossil fuel infrastructure. That includes everything from drilling, to pipelines, to export terminals. 

American gas companies have expanded their plans for export terminals in recent months, responding to the energy crunch caused by the war in Ukraine. But these plans are capitalizing on a crisis with little hope of actually relieving Europe’s energy problems. Moreover, these terminals will be hugely expensive and lock us into gas for decades.

The Biden administration must prevent plans like these from becoming reality. In 2022, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change made clear: any expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure will “rob us of our last chance to avert climate chaos.”

4. Regulate Dangerous Rail Cargo

Liquefied natural gas isn’t just a climate threat — it also threatens communities with the risk of catastrophic explosions. In 2020, the Department of Transportation cleared the way for the transport of LNG by rail. Even worse, it stripped back safety precautions, allowing companies to transport highly flammable LNG like normal freight. 

The recent disaster in East Palestine, Ohio has shown us the consequences of rail deregulation and expanding dirty infrastructure. There, a “100% preventable” train derailment endangered nearby communities, spilling toxic chemicals used by the petrochemical industry.

So far, Biden’s DOT under Pete Buttigieg has dragged its feet on fixing Trump-era rail deregulation. But to keep communities safe and hold these polluting, dangerous industries accountable, the administration must strengthen regulations.

5. Defend Our Food System from Mega-Mergers

In the past few years, food prices have soared. More families are struggling to afford their grocery bills, while farmers see none of the windfall. Instead, that windfall is lining the pockets of huge corporations, thanks to their monopoly power.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. To start, this year the Biden administration can stop a mega-merger between grocery giants Kroger and Albertsons

If approved, the merger would subject millions of families to the whims of an even more powerful monopoly. As we’ve seen before, monopolies lead to higher prices and worse working conditions. Through the Federal Trade Commission, the Biden administration can help block this merger and many others.

6. Protect Families from Factory Farm Pollution

Factory farms fuel the climate crisis, sicken neighboring communities, and pollute our air and our water. The EPA is supposed to protect us, but for decades, its lax rules have allowed factory farms to pollute with impunity. 

That pollution threatens human health with respiratory illnesses, bacteria in drinking water, and more. And those health risks fall disproportionately on low-income communities and communities of color.

We need stronger rules to protect environmental justice communities and slow down climate change. Biden can direct the EPA to finally enact new, better regulations for factory farm air and water pollution. 

Biden Can and Must Act Boldly on Climate

We are running out of time. Every day, temperatures rise; a new disaster strikes. The window is closing to secure food, water, and a livable future for all. And the greedy corporations at the heart of the problem are making matters even worse.

But Biden can show true leadership by enacting policy that will actually help families. He can turn the tide on climate change, while also stopping corporate abuses and extractive industries that threaten our communities.

In the second half of his term, Biden can and must wield his full powers as president to defend our food, our water, and our climate.

Tell President Biden to declare a climate emergency.

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What’s At Stake In The Midterms: Seven Victories To Build On

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by Mia DiFelice

Heading into the November midterm elections, we need to go all out to elect more and better Democrats. 

On issues that matter most — the climate crisis, access to clean water and a sustainable, just food system — we need bold action. We need a Congress that will take on the fossil fuel industry and big agribusiness. We need representatives who will use their power to bring about meaningful and lasting solutions. 

The current Congress is divided by the narrowest of margins, allowing a few conservative Democrats to dictate the terms of legislation. We have seen what happens when Senators like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema can call the shots on our climate agenda. As it stands, Congress won’t pass the ambitious policies we need to keep our planet livable and support working families.

But even with a narrowly divided Congress and a moderate Democratic president, we’ve made important progress in the last two years. This is a testament to our movements’ organizing efforts and a growing progressive contingent in Congress. 

The victories over the past two years are a starting point. Many have gone under the radar, but they were only possible because of the Democrats in national office. With more and better Democrats, we can achieve even more in the two years ahead.

Here are seven wins we can build on after the midterms:

1. Phasing Out Single-Use Plastics On Public Lands

In June, the Department of Interior issued an order to phase out single-use plastics on public lands by 2032. Plastics are almost entirely derived from fossil fuels and only 10% of all plastics ever made have been recycled.

Plastic trash breaks down in our soils and washes into our waterways, where it pollutes our environment, our food and our bodies. This order is an important step in protecting our national parks and wildlife refuges from toxic plastic pollution.

2. An Unprecedented Deployment of Clean Energy Funds

Under the Defense Production Act, Biden authorized the Department of Energy to grow U.S. production of clean energy technologies. This includes both renewable solar power and conservation technology like heat pumps and insulation. 

Biden’s use of the Defense Production Act signals that the executive branch is finally prepared to treat climate change as it is: an existential threat to be met with a whole-of-government approach. It also recognizes that an energy transition is too dire to leave to private corporations and a wily market.

3. The House Holds Big Oil Accountable For Its Lies

For decades, fossil fuel corporations have grown profits by spreading lies about the climate crisis. But in September 2021, the House Oversight Committee began investigating its history of deceit. 

The Committee, led by Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney and Rep. Ro Khanna, will finally hold the industry accountable for profiting billions of dollars off lies that have kept us dependent on their climate-wrecking products. 

4. A Proposed Methane Rule Tightens Emissions Control

In November 2021, EPA proposed a new Clean Air Act rule to tackle climate pollution from the oil and gas industry. The proposal would restrict emissions of not only new oil and gas projects, but — for the first time ever — existing ones as well. 

The rule especially targets methane emissions, which is integral to fighting climate change. As EPA reports, the methane emitted from our oil and gas industry has a greater climate impact than the emissions of all greenhouse gasses from 164 other countries. Additionally, the rule takes aim at toxic air pollution like volatile organic compounds, which disproportionately sicken low-income communities and communities of color.

5. Biden’s EPA Starts Regulating Toxic PFAS

In 2022, the Biden administration set new advisory levels for several PFAS chemicals. These chemicals are toxic and don’t break down in the environment — yet we have used products with PFAS in them for decades. 

The EPA’s long-awaited advisory levels come closer to the research that shows no level of PFAS are safe. While we have a long road ahead of us to tackle our country’s widespread PFAS problem, the EPA has taken vital first steps.

6. Support For Environmental Justice Communities

The Biden administration has taken several steps to improve funding for environmental justice communities that have been historically excluded from federal assistance. It created the first-ever Environmental Justice Advisory Council and announced the Justice40 initiative, committing 40% of the benefits from federal climate and sustainability programs to EJ communities. 

The administration’s commitments have already led to on-the-ground change. For example, the USDA and EPA are working on new guidance and a pilot for rural wastewater projects. We can push for more and greater programs like these with Democrats in Congress.

7. Executive Action Against Monopolies And Corporate Greed

In 2021, an executive order outlined 70 actions to foster competitive markets. As our sister organization Food & Water Watch reported, the market power held by just a few corporations in our food system enables unjust practices to thrive. But now, the Biden administration is taking aim at this market power with investigations, regulations and legislation.

For example, the USDA recently proposed changes to the Packers and Stockyards Act that would give them more tools to stop abusive practices among meat corporations. These changes would strengthen rural economies, ensure food security and empower family farms.

With Democrats In Office, We Can And Will Win More

Our elected officials have achieved a lot in the past two years, but we have a long road ahead of us. To build on these victories, we need a strong showing in the midterm elections. Across the country, Food & Water Action is mobilizing support for climate champions, building people power behind a livable future for all.

Help us spread the word!

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