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WASHINGTON – President Biden will instruct federal agencies on Wednesday to determine how far-reaching a state ban on new oil and gas leasing will be. This is part of a series of executive orders that will effectively launch his climate change agenda, two people with knowledge of the president’s plans said Monday.
A potential ban on new drilling leases would fulfill a campaign promise that enraged the oil industry and became a central theme in the battle for the critical battlefield state of Pennsylvania, where the natural gas production known as hydraulic fracking has grown in business.
The move is the most prominent of several Mr Biden announced on Wednesday, the two people said. The president will also direct the government to get 30 percent of all state and water by 2030, set up a task force to develop a government-wide action plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and issue a memorandum making climate change a national security priority . Mr. Biden will also create several new commissions and positions within the government focused on environmental justice and green job creation, including one in support of displaced coal communities.
The programs and proclamations are designed to signal that climate change is back on the government agenda, bigger than ever. What they will not deliver, at least yet, is a steep and rapid reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
“Can this administration do a lot on its own? Yes, ”said Jonathan H. Adler, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University. “But,” he added, “if the standard is to stabilize the atmosphere, however, I am skeptical that the administration can administratively do anything nearby.”
This requires legislation, said Adler, “especially when a premium is levied for the fastest possible emission reduction.”
A White House spokesman declined to comment on the orders, and two people close to the administration noted that final decisions about them were still being refined.
The likelihood that Congress can pass large chunks of Mr Biden’s $ 2 trillion climate change agenda is only marginally higher since the Democrats have the smallest possible majority in a 50:50 Senate. There is little hope of passing a carbon tax or any other mechanism to extol greenhouse gas pollution, which would drive cost-conscious companies to emit less.
Without legislation, the administration has to rely on the regulatory process to curb greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and chimneys and improve the fuel efficiency of vehicles, but that also takes time. This cannot be done by order of the executive.
“In the end, it comes down to the tons of carbon pollution in the air,” said Tim Profeta, director of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University and co-chair of a group that submitted climate policy plans to the Biden administration.
Profeta said Wednesday’s orders were an important first step.
“The government of Biden can do something to get the country on the right track with its own authorities,” Profeta said. Wednesday, he said, “the process begins.”
The anticipated restriction on new oil and gas leases goes further than Mr Biden’s Inauguration Day actions that prevented the Home Office and other agencies from issuing drilling leases or permits for 60 days while the administration did the legal and political implications of the current federal mineral leasing program.
The new policy will ask the agencies to examine how much state and water body should be protected from mining and drilling or reserved for the generation of renewable energies, according to the two people familiar with this regulation, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they they were not allowed to publicly discuss the directive.
Fossil fuel extraction from public land and bodies of water accounts for nearly a quarter of all US carbon emissions, and Biden advocated ending new wells as key to combating climate change.
Jan. 25, 2021, 7:13 p.m. ET
Much of the environmental community welcomed the plan, although some said Mr Biden is not going far enough.
“It is important that President Biden permanently bans the production of new fossil fuels, including fracking, in states and waters,” said Mitch Jones, policy director at Food & Water Watch, an environmental group.
Throughout the campaign, the left wing of the Democratic Party urged Mr Biden to demand a national ban on fracking, including on private land, where most of the fracking takes place. He refused, but the oil and gas industry remained skeptical. His inauguration day move brought condemnation from the sector and some landowners.
“Your order is a direct attack on our economy, sovereignty and our right to self-determination,” wrote the Utah Ute Indian tribe in a letter to the Home Office published by the American Petroleum Institute.
The climate task force that Mr. Biden is expected to set up will develop a plan for what government officials call the “state-wide” approach to climate change, focusing on two main areas: environmental justice and job creation.
Experts are calling for every agency to take climate change into account when making government decisions, from federal procurement to financial regulations to the settlement of legal disputes.
It will also create a series of councils and committees to ensure that poor and minority communities, as well as Americans living in the coal country, see the economic benefits of clean energy policies.
In 2016, Mr Biden is also expected to revive and strengthen an Obama-era presidential memorandum in 2016 that made climate change a national security priority and urged intelligence agencies to include climate change in their national security threat analysis. It was quickly revoked by the Trump administration.
Alice Hill, who oversaw climate planning for the National Security Council during the Obama administration, said the president’s instruction was necessary because the senior policy makers who request this analysis and the intelligence officials who prepare it often have no experience with it have to think about climate risks.
“When I was in the White House, there was seldom any talk of climate change risks,” said Ms. Hill.
She and others said Mr Biden needed to go further, possibly by converting the memorandum into an executive order that would have more powers to direct agencies to take steps such as defining strategies and guidelines to address climate-related threats.
“Today’s climatic reality is higher temperatures, stronger storms, more devastating forest fires, sea level rise, ocean acidification and persistent drought,” said Sherri Goodman, an Obama Assistant Secretary of Defense for Environmental Security and now a senior fellow in the Wilson Center’s environmental change and security program .
“We need a climate security plan for America that will make America’s infrastructure climate-proof and focus on climate and clean energy innovation,” she said.
Christopher Flavelle contributed to the coverage.