ClimateFoodNews & Opinion
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.