Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Biden To Move Quickly On Climate Change, Reversing Trump Rollbacks

President Biden is moving quickly on climate change on his first day in office, saying he plans to sign a sweeping executive order to undo many of the Trump administration's environmental rollbacks.

Biden's pledge to rejoin the international Paris climate accord tops his list of immediate steps. Former President Donald Trump announced the U.S. withdrawal from the landmark agreement in 2017, which was completed in November. The Trump administration also weakened or undid other, lesser-known climate and environmental policies that Biden has vowed to restore.

Biden will instruct federal agencies to review more than 100 policies, many crucial to curbing heat-trapping emissions, including fuel economy standards for cars and pollution limits on the oil and gas industry.

"A cry for survival comes from the planet itself, a cry that can't be any more desperate or any more clear," Biden said in his inaugural address Wednesday.

The Trump administration systematically loosened Obama-era environmental standards that range from energy-efficiency standards for appliances and buildings to air quality standards designed to protect public health.

Some of those rollbacks, such as fuel economy standards for cars and trucks, went further than the industry wanted. Under President Barack Obama, automakers had negotiated efficiency standards that gradually became tougher year after year. Federal agencies under Trump instead froze the standards, leading some automakers to agree voluntarilyto continue with the tougher rules.

Fuel efficiency of cars and trucks in the U.S. fell for the first time in five years in 2019, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Transportation is the country's largest source of greenhouse gas emissions.

The Biden administration will also instruct the federal government to consider the long-term economic impacts of climate change when making new regulations, what's known as the "social cost" of carbon. Under Obama, those costs were weighed against the immediate cost a new regulation might pose to an industry, given that climate impacts are increasingly costing billions across many economic sectors. The Trump administration did away with that practice in 2017. Biden is reestablishing the working group to issue those guidelines, including weighing "environmental justice and intergenerational equity" considerations.

The planned moves were applauded by environmental groups, who warn the U.S. has little time to act to cut emissions. Scientists say the world is on track to exceed 1.5 Celsius degrees of warming, which will lead to higher sea level rise and more extreme heat waves and hurricanes.

"The sweeping nature of these executive orders are an important down payment in addressing the tatters left behind by President Trump," Kathleen Rest, executive director at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in a statement. "They seek to reverse policies that fly in the face of science, harm public health and degrade the environment."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Lauren Sommer covers climate change for NPR's Science Desk, from the scientists on the front lines of documenting the warming climate to the way those changes are reshaping communities and ecosystems around the world.