While Biden’s executive orders can only go so far, the case for their importance was made in Michigan, and Michigan shows their potential for future impact clearly.
BAY MILLS, Mich.—The Bay Mills Indian Community, composed of the Indigenous Anishinaabe people, have been in the spotlight during Michigan’s fight over the Line 5 pipeline run by Canadian company Enbrige. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recognized the threat Line 5 posed to the Anishinaabe’s rights under the treaty that gave their land to the about-to-form state of Michigan.
Bryan Newland, Bay Mills’ chair, told Michigan Advance it was the first time he saw an American leader proactively cite treaty rights for Indigenous people without being forced to do so by courts.
“It is always a struggle to get state governments to recognize the existence of our treaties, our rights and their responsibilities to not impair those rights,” he said. “It’s not enough to recognize our right to harvest. State governments have a responsibility to stop harming and degrading this fishery. This was a big step in tribal-state relations.”
Bay Mills might be finding itself with another ally in President Joe Biden, who shut down the similar oil pipeline Keystone XL. The orders to shutdown Keystone XL has energized opponents of Line 5 as well as other pipelines, reports the Associated Press. But pipelines are just part of a bigger picture.
Biden took direct aim at the climate crisis after just a week in office, signing a series of executive orders that he said would marshal the powers of the federal government to transition the United States away from fossil fuels, create millions of new jobs in renewable energy, transform the nation’s infrastructure, and conserve vast ranges of public lands and water.
Biden spoke Wednesday of the urgent need to “confront the existential threat of climate change,”citing the intense western wildfires, devastating hurricanes along the Gulf and East coasts, and droughts across the Midwest.
“We’ve already waited too long to deal with this climate crisis. We can’t wait any longer,” Biden said during a speech at the White House. “We see it with our own eyes. We feel it. We know it in our bones. And it’s time to act.”
Biden’s executive orders:
- Pledge to use the buying power of the federal government to purchase mass quantities of zero-emissions vehicles to “create good-paying, union jobs and stimulate clean energy industries.”
- Direct the Interior Department to pause all new oil and natural gas leases on public lands and offshore waters “to the extent possible,” while the agency conducts a “rigorous review” of existing leases and permits.
- Establish a new National Climate Task Force and order the Interior Department to identify steps that can be taken to double renewable energy production from offshore wind by 2030 and provide a review to the newly formed task force.
- Call on federal agencies to eliminate subsidies for fossil fuel companies—a key driver of climate change—and “identify new opportunities to spur innovation, commercialization, and deployment of clean energy technologies and infrastructure.”
- Specify that climate change will, for the first time, be a critical aspect of all foreign policy and national security decisions, and direct the federal government’s intelligence agencies to create a first-ever “National Intelligence Estimate” of the security risks posed by climate change.
- Set a goal of conserving at least 30% of America’s lands and oceans by 2030.
- Call for the creation of a Civilian Climate Corps Initiative to put Americans to work conserving and restoring public lands and waters, protecting biodiversity, addressing the changing climate, and more.
- Establish a White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council and a White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council and direct federal agencies to develop programs and policies to address the disproportionate health, environmental, economic, and climate impacts on disadvantaged communities.
- Set a goal of delivering 40% of the overall benefits of federal climate investments to disadvantaged communities most affected by climate change.
- Formally establish the White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy and make official former Secretary of State John Kerry’s role as international climate envoy, giving him a seat on the National Security Council.
“It’s not time for small measures; we need to be bold,” Biden said.
Those zero-emission vehicles in particular deliver on a major campaign promise Biden gave Michiganders.
Last summer, during a campaign stop in Warren, Michigan, Biden laid out his promise for a new restoration of the auto industry. He made an ambitious promise to modernize the entire fleet of federal vehicles to electric models, installing electric charging stations nationwide, and proposing a plan that resembled the early 2010s policy Cash for Clunkers. Biden also wants to lead by example, citing numerous times a desire to get himself a new electric Corvette.
Michigan’s auto industry would be key to that objective, he said, and the Big Three automakers agreed. General Motors CEO Mary Barra signaled the company’s commitment to emission standards and electrification in December, when the company dropped a lawsuit against California’s auto emissions standards.
“We believe the ambitious electrification goals of the President-elect, California, and General Motors are aligned, to address climate change by drastically reducing automobile emissions,” Barra said at the time.
While Biden’s executive orders can only go so far—legislation is needed to achieve many of Biden’s goals, such as reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. Last Wednesday’s host of actions underscore the ambition of his climate agenda, which he has made clear is one of his administration’s key priorities. Since taking office, Biden has also moved to rejoin the Paris climate accord, blocked the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, and directed the Environmental Protection Agency to begin the process of reinstating an Obama-era rule governing vehicle tailpipe emissions.
Biden’s orders received praise from climate change advocates, including Mitch Bernard, president and CEO of the National Resources Defense Council.
“The signal from President Biden today is unmistakable: For the next four years, every day will be climate day. That will not only help us avoid a fate of ever-worsening extreme weather disasters—it will help us rebuild stronger in the face of the multiple crises gripping our nation, from the pandemic to racial injustice and the economy,” Bernard said in a statement. “We look forward to working with the administration to answer this call of history. There is no time to waste.”
Varshini Prakash, executive director of the progressive Sunrise Movement, also hailed Biden’s efforts.
“Young people organized like hell to get Biden elected, delivering him a mandate for action on the climate crisis, COVID-19, systemic racism, and the economy,” Prakash said. “Today makes clear that President Biden hears our generation’s demands loud and clear, understands the power of our movement, and is serious about using executive power to deliver on his campaign promises.”
The oil and gas industry—a major force behind emissions—and Republicans—who have long denied the reality of climate change—were predictably less enthused and were quick to criticize Biden’s executive actions, particularly his order to pause new oil and gas leases, which they claim will cost jobs.
But Michigan’s role in the executive orders on the replacement of the government’s fleet of land vehicles shows the potential in job creation born from Biden’s strategy that defies conventional wisdom saying business and the environment must be opposed forces. That bold approach is what won Biden the vote of a Michigander studying environmental justice, Lance Wood.
He doesn’t see that as different from his advocacy for science and fighting the pandemic and climate change, rather sees them both as part of a single whole. As an example, Wood points to the green economy.
“There tends to be a misconception about what climate policy looks like,” Wood explained to The ‘Gander.
Rather than eliminating jobs that have a negative impact on the economy, explained Wood, a green economy creates jobs in renewable energy, and helps transition workers from one form of energy production to something more sustainable to ensure jobs aren’t lost, but gained.
And those jobs would be able to provide for others to have the same advantages Wood has had. As the son of union workers from Lenawee County, Wood was raised in a comfortable middle-class lifestyle that has become increasingly hard for Michiganders to maintain.
Biden made clear that doing nothing was not an option, but also reiterated that taking action against climate change didn’t have to be a grim ordeal.
“We’re talking about the health of our families and cleaner water, cleaner air, and cleaner communities. We’re talking about national security and America leading the world in a clean energy future,” Biden said. “It’s a future of enormous hope and opportunity.”