Biden recommits U.S. to Paris climate accord, blocks Keystone pipeline

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In one of his first official acts, President Joe Biden signed executive orders January 20 to rejoin the United States into the Paris climate agreement and block construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

The Oval Office event was Biden’s first major action to tackle global warming as he brings the largest team of climate change experts ever into the White House. During his presidential campaign, Biden had laid out plans to roll back a number of the Trump administration’s environmental and energy policies.

Return to Paris

Former President Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris Agreement, a nonbinding global accord to address the threat of climate change, in 2017. Trump argued the U.S. commitments were unfair, unnecessary, and costly.

Absent action on the federal level, a coalition of state governors and local leaders worked to support the international deal’s goals.

Following Biden’s executive order, clean energy groups applauded the United States’ planned return to the Paris Agreement and said they’re looking forward to working with the new administration to combat climate change.

Gregory Wetstone, president and CEO of the American Council on Renewable Energy, commended Biden’s “commitment to move America beyond climate denial on his very first day in office.”

Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, said the industry “stands ready to help America meet its commitments in the Paris Agreement.”

Goodbye, Keystone

President Biden also signed an executive order revoking the existing presidential permit for the Keystone XL pipeline.

The cross-border oil pipeline project between Canada and the United States has faced strong opposition from environmental and Indigenous groups for years. Former president Barack Obama rejected the project. In 2017, however, Trump issued a presidential permit to help move the stalled project forward, citing energy independence and job creation.

In a statement, Keystone XL developer TC Energy Corp. called Biden’s plan to scrap the permit “very disappointing.” The Canadian company claimed the decision could lead to thousands of job losses, adding that the firm is assessing its options and suspending the project.

In the lead-up to Biden’s inauguration, TC Energy announced plans to make the Keystone project the “first pipeline to be fully powered by renewable energy.” As part of the initiative, the company said its commitment would spur up to $1.7 billion in investment and create 1.6 GW of renewables.

According to a Reuters report, Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently signaled his continued support for the Keystone pipeline, telling reporters, “Our government is making sure that Canada’s views are heard and considered.”

Environmental groups have praised Biden.

Catherine Collentine, associate director of the Sierra Club’s Dirty Fuels Campaign, called the Keystone Xl rejection “a huge and hard-fought victory for our communities, clean water, and climate.”

Mitchell Bernard, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said Biden’s “swift and decisive” actions on the pipeline and Paris Agreement make “the United States once more part of the global climate solution—not the problem.”

Climate team

The White House climate team is led by Gina McCarthy, former administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The new climate team includes the following:

  • Sonia Aggarwal, a co-founder and the vice president of Energy Innovation, will serve as senior advisor for climate policy and innovation;
  • The Coalition for Green Capital’s Jahi Wise will serve as a senior advisor for climate policy and finance in the administration’s Office of Domestic Climate Policy;
  • David Hayes, formerly executive director of the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center and an adjunct professor at the NYU School of Law, has been tapped as special assistant to the president for climate policy;
  • Dr. Cecilia Martinez, co-founder and executive director at the Center for Earth, Energy, and Democracy, will serve as senior director for environmental justice;
  • Maggie Thomas, political director at the nonprofit Evergreen Action and former policy advisor to U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, has been appointed chief of staff for the Office of Domestic Climate Policy; and
  • Jeff Marootian has been named special assistant to the president for climate and science agency personnel.

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