The (Com)Post: AU students and faculty react to the Biden-Harris administration’s environmental agenda

New administration’s announcements on climate policy give hope yet require accountability

The (Com)Post: AU students and faculty react to the Biden-Harris administration’s environmental agenda
"All Staff Zoom Call with Vice President Biden, Dr. Biden, Senator Harris, and Doug Emhoff - Wilmington, DE - August 13, 2020" by Biden For President is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

President Joe Biden announced major additions to his administration’s climate agenda over the course of the previous week. After ordering the United States’s reentry into the Paris Climate Agreement on his first day in office, Biden issued a multipart executive order that promises a significant reduction in fossil fuel emissions, an investment in sustainable infrastructure, more jobs in the renewable energy sector and many more actions to fight climate change. 

Many environmentalists were pleased with the immediate prioritization of climate change on the new administration’s agenda. On the other hand, American University students and faculty expressed varying opinions on the topic.

“I feel really positive. I know that I and almost all scientists, especially environmental scientists, have been shocked and dismayed at the Trump administration’s actions with regard to the environment,” environmental science professor Karen Knee said. “So, I think it’s a relief and a positive thing that Biden is trying to reverse those actions and go further and faster with [environmental policy] than the Obama administration did.”

Members of the AU Climate and Conservation Policy Club shared similar sentiments of optimism and hope in regards to the Biden-Harris administration’s environmental approach. 

“[Biden] ran on the most ambitious climate plan of any presidency to date, so we have to give him credit for that,” said Andrew Pratt, co-president of the club. “Having a goal of reaching 100 percent [net] zero emissions [in coming years] is an ambitious goal, and we'll just have to see what happens. You have the ambitious talk of a campaign agenda, but now as the administration moves in, those campaign promises will come into contact with political realities.”

Although it’s early in Biden’s presidency, some worry that his promises will not actually be carried out, arguing that actions speak louder than words. The Sunrise Movement’s AU chapter emphasized the importance of holding the Biden-Harris administration accountable.

“[Sunrise AU is] pretty pleasantly surprised with the immediate action taken thus far,” said Lucy Hermann, a spokesperson for Sunrise AU. “I hope that these actions can come to fruition and real change happens. I’m hopeful that he and others within his cabinet ... actually do the things that they say they’re going to do.”

Former secretary of state John Kerry, who was appointed as the White House’s special presidential envoy for climate, serves in the first ever role on the National Security Council entirely dedicated to climate. During his time as secretary of state under former President Barack Obama’s administration, he worked to negotiate the Paris Climate Agreement and made climate change a central focus of his career - ultimately doing the exact opposite of former President Donald Trump. 

“Personnel is policy, and we see that [Biden] is bringing together a group of people who've been environmental activists for decades,” Pratt said. “It's also exciting to see Michael Regan as the new EPA administrator. Not only is [Biden] bringing veterans of environmental agencies to bear, but many of them have special backgrounds. For instance, Regan has a background in environmental justice.”

Environmental justice is an issue that Biden addressed in Wednesday’s executive order, in which he declared that 40 percent of climate investment will go into disadvantaged communities. 

Environmental justice is definitely a key component to every decision that's being made,” Kayah Ryerson, a spokesperson for Sunrise AU, said. “Also, the Civilian Climate Corps will hopefully be providing jobs to people who are passionate about the environment and want to make a difference.”

While these key environmental policies will confront the climate crisis for at least the next four years, bipartisan support is necessary for long-lasting goals, according to Climate and Conservation Policy Club policy chair Camille Wejnert-Depue.

“[Biden] has a plan for a $400 billion investment over 10 years to develop new technology breakthroughs that will create new jobs and vastly reduce emissions,” Wejnert-Depue said of Biden’s campaign proposal. “This is a great plan, but after four years, all of this could be rolled back. If you don’t have the bipartisan support to continue, a lot of progress can’t be made over only four years.”

Biden has called the climate crisis a threat to national security and emphasized its potential effects on all Americans. Climate and Conservation Policy Club members expressed their hope that this unifying message will motivate bipartisan effort to pass effective climate policy. 

“Any effective effort to address climate change has to be long-lasting,” Pratt said. “This isn’t something that one administration can take up for four years but the next one puts on the back burner. It’s obviously not an issue that can be solved in a couple of years; it's a problem that will take lots of action for the greater part of the century. It’s something that’s going to have to be consistent and long-lasting.”

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