Biden Executive Orders Address Climate Change


President Biden signed a series of executive actions last week, including two issues related to climate change policy. The first directs the United States to begin the process to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, the 2015 international treaty signed by nearly 200 countries that calls for limiting fossil-fuel pollution that causes climate change. While symbolically significant, the accord relies on commitments made by signatory countries to meet specified goals and contains no enforcement mechanisms.

Under a separate order, Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis, Biden calls for action to strengthen the role of science and to better enable accounting for the incremental increases in greenhouse gas emissions. The key metric the executive order discusses is re-establishing and revising the “social cost of carbon” (SCC), which was widely used by the Obama administration.

The executive order calls for the establishment of an Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Greenhouse Gases, as well as issuance of an interim figure within 30 days that agencies shall use when monetizing the value of changes in greenhouse gas emissions resulting from regulations and other relevant agency actions. The working group will also provide recommendations to the president, by no later than Sept. 1, 2021, on how the SCC should be applied in areas of federal decision-making, budgeting and procurement.

Indicative of how the new administration will be looking at the issue of climate change overall is the fact that in updating the methodology for calculating the SCC and other greenhouse gases, the Working Group is directed to ensure it adequately considers climate risk, environmental justice and intergenerational equity, a term which is meant to illustrate the inclusion of the interests of future generations in avoiding threats posed by climate change.

Separately, the Biden-Harris transition released a list of regulations expected to be reviewed under the Executive Order: “Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis.”

While extensive, this list is not a final tabulation of actions that may come under review. A key component of the review process will be the concurrent submission of actions to be reviewed by the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the National Climate Advisor, a newly created position in the Biden administration that will be held by former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. The dual review process may result in the review of a broader scope of agency actions for potential climate impacts that will extend beyond those traditionally subject to OMB review.

NAHB will continue to monitor developments in the implementation of these actions and how they could impact the housing industry. For more information, contact Tamra Spielvogel.

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