The (Com)Post: Speakers at SPA climate change webinar urge accountability for Biden administration

Scientists, reporters and administrators discuss recent executive orders and future work

The (Com)Post: Speakers at SPA climate change webinar urge accountability for Biden administration

The panel discussing holding the Biden/Harris administration accountable

American University’s Center for Environmental Policy hosted a virtual event focused on climate change policy and holding the Biden-Harris administration accountable on Feb. 4 in partnership with the American Lung Association.

Laura Kate Bender, the national assistant vice president of Healthy Air at the American Lung Association, moderated “Looking Ahead: A Roadmap for Healthy Air & Equitable Climate Action for the Biden Administration.” Daniel Fiorino, the center’s director, concluded the event with his remarks.

"Climate change is a health emergency, but it’s also a health opportunity," Bender said. "The emergency is that people across the country are experiencing health harms due to climate change right now. The opportunity is that we can address these problems together.”

Joseph Goffman, executive director of the Environmental and Energy Law Program at Harvard Law School, praised President Joe Biden’s priority executive orders in the last month. He noted an executive order Biden signed on his first day in office that addressed air quality, among other issues. 

Other speakers included Adrienne Hollis, senior climate justice and health scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists; Kelsey Brugger, a reporter for E&E News; Ali Mirzakhalili, air quality administrator in Oregon; Marcy Reed, the Massachusetts president at National Grid; and Ann Weeks, senior counsel and legal director at the Clean Air Task Force.

Weeks expressed encouragement with what the Biden administration has done so far but acknowledged that there needs to be an all-out response to the climate crisis. 

"We need an all of the above response to climate and clean air and we needed it yesterday,” Weeks said. “I'm encouraged that the administration in week two seems to be rushing ahead down the road toward these improvements.”

The event also tackled accountability, with some speakers questioning how progress will be made. During her remarks, Brugger questioned how Biden will achieve everything on his climate agenda.

Similarly, Hollis voiced concerns about systemic racism and climate change, citing a fiscal year 2018 EPA report that found that people of color are more likely to live near polluters.

Hollis did, however, strike an optimistic tone later in her remarks, focusing on what Biden has done so far. 

“The good news is that today President Biden has signed 25 executive orders in just 15 days,” Hollis said. “We're looking forward to watching this administration continue to staff its offices with the focus on its people experienced in toxics, in cumulative exposures, in environmental justice and health equity.”

During the Q&A session, each speaker was asked how they would hold the Biden administration accountable. Each speaker’s response emphasized engagement with people in the administration. 

“I think how we can hold the Biden administration accountable is to see how things look different in the future,” Mirzakhalili said. “Are they going to provide opportunities for input and involvement? How would they respond to petitions on permit actions?” 

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