President Biden's Climate Order and Clean Water

As many of my colleagues have written over the last several days, there is much to like in President Biden’s January 27th executive order titled “Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad.” I’d like to highlight a few provisions that signal good things to come with respect to our streams, ponds, wetlands, and other important waters.

For starters, President Biden directs the White House Council on Environmental Quality and Office of Management and Budget to “require that Federal permitting decisions consider the effects of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.” Faithfully implementing this directive will mean that the Environmental Protection Agency will need to undo its Trump-era rule severely curtailing the kinds of things states and tribes can consider when imposing conditions on, or refusing to allow, federally permitted projects like pipelines that cause harm to waterways. It also means that the Army Corps of Engineers will need to rethink the Trump administration’s fast-track permits for a variety of water-destroying activities, as the Corps refused to consider that permitted projects would worsen climate change (and numerous other environmental conditions). 

Another exciting aspect of the order is its recognition of how coastal ecosystems like wetlands “protect vulnerable coastlines, sequester carbon, and support biodiversity and fisheries” and its creation of a Civilian Climate Corps initiative that will put people to work to preserve, sustain, and restore those ecosystems. The Climate Corps will spearhead projects that “conserve and restore public lands and waters, bolster community resilience, increase reforestation, increase carbon sequestration in the agricultural sector, protect biodiversity, improve access to recreation, and address the changing climate.” Protecting and restoring coastal wetlands makes communities less vulnerable to storm surges, traps carbon that would worsen global warming, and provides habitat for countless species.

And, as a bunch of my NRDC colleagues describe, President Biden’s embrace of the “30x30” initiative to protect 30 percent of the nation’s lands, freshwater, and ocean areas by 2030 is a game-changer. Realizing the 30x30 vision for freshwater resources, my colleagues Becky Hammer and Drev Hunt write, will require a comprehensive strategy that starts with reversing the Trump “Dirty Water Rule,” which excluded millions of miles of streams and tens of millions of acres of wetlands from a variety of pollution control, prevention, and cleanup programs in the federal Clean Water Act.