WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden, describing climate change as a "maximum threat" to the nation, signed a series of executive orders Wednesday aimed at increasing the use of clean energy sources and creating jobs in the renewable energy sector.
Biden, speaking at the White House, described swift action on climate change as essential, citing intensifying wildfires in the West, severe droughts in the Midwest, and "more intense and powerful hurricanes" and storms along the East Coast and Gulf Coast.
"In my view, we’ve already waited too long to deal with this climate crisis. We can’t wait any longer," Biden said. "We see it with our own eyes. We feel it. We know it in our bones. And it’s time to act."
The first, and most expansive, of three orders signed by Biden on Wednesday calls for an "all of government" approach to tackling climate change. The order directs the Department of Interior to pause oil and gas drilling leases on federal lands and water "to the extent possible." The order also establishes a goal of conserving at least 30% of federal lands and oceans by 2030.
The order also directs federal agencies to purchase U.S.-manufactured electric cars and zero-emission vehicles, which the White House contends will "stimulate clean energy industries."
Under the order, federal agencies are to regard climate change "as an essential element of U.S. foreign policy and national security."
Biden has faced pushback from congressional Republicans and fossil fuel industry groups who contend his environmental policies threaten the jobs of those in the fuel industry.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said in a statement that Biden’s "unilateral actions" will "impede our ability to compete globally."
"Pie-in-the-sky government mandates and directives that restrict our mining, oil, and gas industries adversely impact our energy security and independence," Rodgers said. "At a time when millions are struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the last thing Americans need is big government destroying jobs, while costing the economy billions of dollars."
The president, in his remarks Wednesday, argued that his climate agenda would look to boost job creation in the clean energy industry.
"When I think of climate change and the answers to it, I think of jobs,″ Biden said. "We’re going to put people to work. We’re not going to lose jobs. These aren’t pie-in-the-sky dreams. These are concrete, actionable solutions.″
Biden argued that "millions" of jobs will ultimately be created to modernize "our water systems, transportation, our energy infrastructure — to withstand the impacts of extreme climate."
Biden’s newly appointed climate change adviser, Gina McCarthy, speaking at Wednesday’s White House news briefing, said job creation was a priority in the president’s environmental agenda.
"People in this country need a job. This is about making that happen in the most creative and significant way that the federal government can," McCarthy said.
Biden also signed a presidential memorandum that he said makes "clear that we will protect our world-class scientists from political interference and ensure they can think, research and speak freely and directly to me, the vice president and the American people."
The memorandum comes days after top federal health officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, and Dr. Deborah Birx, Trump’s former White House coronavirus response coordinator, both detailed in media interviews pushback they often received from Trump’s closest aides when they presented information and data downplayed by Trump.
The third order signed by Biden establishes the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, a panel of 26 scientists that will advise top level officials on policy matters.
The orders come a week after Biden was sworn into office and expand on climate-related orders he signed in his first hours in office, including an order for the United States to reenter the Paris climate accord after Trump withdrew in 2017, and an order calling for an expansive review of all the environmental regulations rolled back under Trump.
Former Secretary of State John Kerry, who Biden tapped to fill a newly created role of U.S. envoy on climate change issues, told reporters Wednesday that Biden will look to convene a summit on climate change on Earth Day, April 22.
"The convening of this summit is essential to ensuring that 2021 is going to be the year that really makes up for the lost time of the last four years," said Kerry.