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President Biden's Environmental Victories

Alison Hartford shares "a cheat sheet for tracking the flood of good news from the Biden administration," Sierra Club, April 25, 2024.

The Biden administration is on a roll when it comes to putting in place strong standards to protect our wildlands, safeguard clean water, and tackle the climate crisis. In the last couple of months, federal agencies have issued a flood of new rules to bolster renewable energy and conserve natural landscapes. Taken together, the raft of administration actions represents a truly historic, unprecedented presidential commitment to environmental protection. Melinda Pierce, legislative director for the Sierra Club, says that Biden “has the most ambitious climate and environmental agenda of any president in history.” 

“All of this in the lead-up to Earth Day has been breathtaking,” says Pierce, referring to the federal announcements that have occurred in just the last week. “He’s making good on his all-government approach to tackling climate and environment. It really does span the spectrum of conservation protections, clean energy, and environmental justice.” 

So many ambitious environmental actions have been announced in March and April that it can be dizzying to keep track of them all. Here, then, is a cheat sheet to track all of these environmental victories.

President Joe Biden speaks at the Lucy Evans Baylands Nature Interpretive Center and Preserve

in Palo Alto, California. | Photo by Susan Walsh/AP

Strong new rules for dirty power plants 

Coal- and gas-fired power plants are one of the “largest sources of climate destabilizing pollution in the world,” according to Vickie Patton, general counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund. Under new rules announced by the EPA on April 25, new gas-fired power plants and existing coal-fired power plants will have to capture at least 90 percent of their smokestack carbon dioxide emissions by 2039—or shut down entirely. The pollution rules—four total—also create new standards for mercury emissions from smokestacks, waste dumps of coal ash, and wastewater discharges. When fully implemented, the new standards will dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and put President Biden’s goal to eliminate carbon pollution from the electricity sector by 2035 within reach. The EPA estimates that the new rulings could reduce carbon emissions by 1.38 billion tons through 2047. 

This is the first time the federal government has ever restricted carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal-fired power plants. According to the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, there are 148 remaining coal plants in the United States, and 382 retired: Any coal-fired power plants that announce their retirement before 2032 will not be subject to the new rules. 

“It’s a major step forward in our movement’s fight to decarbonize the electric sector and help avoid the worst impacts of climate change,” Sierra Club executive director Ben Jealous said in a statement

Drinking water will have fewer PFAS chemicals

The EPA announced the nation’s first drinking water standard for PFAS, a.k.a. per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, often referred to as “forever chemicals.” The chemicals are found in products like food packaging, nonstick pans, and water-resistant clothing; exposure to PFAS has been linked to harmful health effects, like an increased risk of certain types of cancer. In 2023, a US Geological Survey study estimated that certain types of PFAS contaminants can be found in nearly half the nation’s tap water.

The new standard will limiting certain types of the chemicals to 4 parts per trillion or less in drinking water. The rule also comes with billions of dollars in funding for states and territories to implement PFAS testing and treatment: The EPA estimates the updated standards can help protect 100 million people from PFAS exposure. 

“Today’s announcement of robust, health-protective legal limits on PFAS in tap water will finally give tens of millions of Americans the protection they should have had decades ago,” Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, said in a statement when the rules were announced. 

Billions of dollars for clean energy technology funding 

The Biden administration has made billions of dollars of clean technology funding. In late April, President Biden announced a combined $7 billion in grants going to 60 organizations as part of the Solar For All program, which will bring solar energy to an estimated 900,000 low-income households. In early April, Vice President Kamala Harris and EPA administrator Michael Regan announced $20 billion in funding through the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund: That money is going toward three national clean financing institutions and five nonprofit organizations. And another $2.3 billion was announced in March to go toward 39 energy infrastructure and renewable energy projects in rural areas—that comes on top of  $366 million, announced in February, for clean energy projects mostly within tribal nations. That’s a total of nearly $30 billion for clean energy technologies.

Administration opens hiring for the American Climate Corps

In 2023, President Biden announced the American Climate Corps, modeled after FDR’s famous Civilian Conservation Corps. Applications are now open for 273 initial positions; the White House hopes to eventually employ more than 20,000 young people in climate and clean energy jobs. “You’ll get paid to fight climate change—learning how to install those solar panels, fight wildfires, rebuild wetlands, weatherize homes, and so much more,” President Biden said at a press conference in northern Virginia. Opportunities are available through organizations including federal agencies; state, local, and tribal governments; nonprofits; and state-based climate corps.

For several other items on the environmental wins, visit Sierra Club here.

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