Viewpoint: On Earth Day, Biden implements historic climate action

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Viewpoint: On Earth Day, Biden implements historic climate action
Karen Rubin, Columnist

It’s not just rhetorical flourish or pandering promises. President Biden has taken historic actions in devising and implementing real, innovative programs and achieved unprecedented progress in tackling the climate crisis by protecting the environment in a way that benefits all Americans, cuts costs for households, and creates good-paying jobs and careers.

The programs are detailed, but taken together, they achieve the necessary transition from a carbon-based economy and society to one that is based on clean, renewable and sustainable infrastructure.

A full week of important environmental announcements, began on Earth Day, April 22, with Biden announcing that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has selected 60 entities receiving $7 billion through the Solar for All grant competition to deliver residential solar projects to over 900,000 households nationwide and a guarantee of at least 20 percent energy cost savings per household. The grant competition is part of EPA’s $27 billion Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, funded through the Inflation Reduction Act.

Biden also announced new actions to bolster the American Climate Corps – his groundbreaking initiative modeled after FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps that developed such national park sites as Prince William Forest Park where he traveled for Earth Day. Beginning in 2024, the climate corps will put more than 20,000 young Americans to work fighting the impacts of climate change today while gaining the life-changing skills to join the growing clean energy and climate-resilience workforce of tomorrow. (Apply to join the American Climate Corps through a newly launched website, ClimateCorps.gov.)

Meanwhile, Biden is also taking major steps in his historic conservation agenda to protect 30 percent of the nation’s lands and waters by 2030.

He is on track to conserve more lands and waters than any president in history – essential to preserving biodiversity and stemming the record rate of extinction due to human activity and loss of habitat.

A landmark United Nations report found that up to 1 million species are threatened with extinction, many within decades. The report finds that natural habitats are declining in rates “unprecedented in human history,” as species extinction is accelerating “with grave impacts on people around the world now likely.” (https://now.tufts.edu/2019/05/21/extinction-crisis)

So far, Biden has brought 41 million acres of lands and waters under protection — from establishing new national monuments like Baaj Nwaavjo I'tah Kukveni on the outskirts of the Grand Canyon and Camp Hale high in the Colorado Rockies, to strengthening protections for treasures like the Tongass National Forest and Bristol Bay in Alaska.

Significantly, the Interior Department released a rule to help guide the “balanced management” of all 245 million acres of America’s public lands overseen by the Bureau of Land Management. Essentially this rule requires that conservation and recreation - of natural habitat, cultural resources, recreation areas - be put on equal footing with resource extraction for licenses. This would actually comply with Congress’ mandate 50 years ago, but up until now, the BLM tended to tilt its decisions to benefit mining and drilling.  The rule will help to ensure the BLM continues to protect land health while managing other uses of public lands, such as clean energy development and outdoor recreation.

Earth Week coincides with National Park Week and the administration just launched Conservation.gov, a new resource hub to connect people with information, tools, resources and opportunities to support land and water conservation. This includes finding outdoor recreation places, how to volunteer on public lands, and a financial assistance tool to access grant opportunities.

Throughout Earth Week, the Biden-Harris administration is announcing additional actions to build a stronger, healthier future for all: helping ensure clean water for all communities; accelerating America’s clean transportation future; cutting pollution from the power sector while strengthening America’s electricity grid; and providing cleaner air and healthier schools for all children.

The administration’s strongest-ever pollution standards for cars and trucks will reduce carbon emissions by more than 7 billion tons while also slashing emissions of other pollutants and tackling pollution from fossil fuel power plants. This administration is replacing every lead pipe in America so that everyone can drink clean water, cleaning up toxic waste sites and partnering with communities to remove dangerous “forever chemicals” from their water supplies.

Biden’s Justice40 Initiative set a standard of directing 40 percent of the overall benefits of federal clean energy, clean transit, and other investments that fight climate change to communities that are overburdened by pollution and disadvantaged by under-investment.

A critical theme throughout these policies is that instead of environmental protection and climate action being “feel good” activities, they are critical to the nation’s economic prosperity, each family’s financial security, and each person’s health and well-being.

“Through clear vision and big, bold steps, the president has continued to move the United States to a leadership position on climate change; taken unprecedented and historic action. He is making sure that this doesn't just represent opportunity or possibilities for few but, really, comeback opportunities for communities all across the country and an economic surplus that's accessible to all Americans, whether it's by entering pathways to a climate career or plugging into the savings that come from clean energy,” White House National Climate Adviser Ali Zaidi told a press briefing on the initiatives.

Climate change isn’t some long-off abstract, but demonstrated almost daily with devastating and tragic disasters - superstorms, wildfires, droughts, heat waves, floods – that are making the earth quite literally uninhabitable. This week we are being warned of global catastrophe due to record-warm oceans killing the coral reefs that are ground-zero for the food supply.

“This work has never been more urgent,” Biden said in proclaiming Earth Day 2024. “Climate change is the existential crisis of our time; no one can deny its impacts and staggering costs anymore.”

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