Biden Win Likely Means a Return to Obama-Era Environmental Policies: Wright

Joe Biden’s electoral victory over Donald Trump portends a shift back to Obama-era environmental policies, Wright told the webinar attendees. Specifically, that means a “much more aggressive” Environmental Protection Agency, reinstatement of Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards, a reinstatement of the Clean Power Plan, the U.S. reentering the Paris climate accord and “lots of executive orders” rolling back Trump’s orders that relaxed environmental rules.

Look for President-elect Biden to come out of the gate with a series of executive orders reversing many of Trump’s environmental policies, laying the groundwork for an administration that has vowed to sharply curb carbon emissions. In addition, look for a plan to address the coronavirus pandemic, expanded health care options and new pro-union labor regulations.

Biden will face a monumental task: The Trump administration has rolled back more than 100 environmental regulations and encouraged deregulation of many industries. But his pledge to undo Trump administration rollbacks will require lengthy rulemakings, while implementing his ambitious plan for reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 could run up against GOP senators, if they can keep their majority in the Senate. 

Biden has long said he will rejoin the Paris climate accord on day one of his presidency. Halting new leases for drilling oil on public land is another item atop his list. From there, he could target several Trump orders, including those that greenlit controversial projects like the Keystone XL pipeline and scaled down the size of national monuments.

Additional measures could get the ball rolling on eroding Trump’s energy legacy. Biden will likely sign executive orders to reverse agency policies or force agencies to stop defending certain policies in court—a tactic commonly practiced by the Trump administration.

To that end, Biden could instruct EPA and the Interior Department to begin the process of reversing all of Trump’s climate rollbacks, an effort that would require months if not years of rulemaking.

Meanwhile, agencies could reverse their position on a number of Trump administration rollbacks, ranging from weakening fuel economy standards to narrowing the scope of the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rules that determine which bodies of water receive federal protections. 

Biden’s victory also likely means more money for waterways and ports and additional coronavirus relief. And Biden could pursue—and perhaps successfully achieve—comprehensive infrastructure legislation. “Infrastructure spending is one of the few issues with broad, bipartisan appeal,” Wright explained. “This could be one of the few paths for legislation in a divided Washington.”

Wright also predicted that regulatory agencies in the Biden administration would quickly propose new rules. While full notice and comment rulemakings are cumbersome and take a long time, “they also can’t be reversed by your successor with a stroke of a pen.”