Biden Launches Regulatory Pivot on Climate Change and Energy

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Published Jan 20, 2021 11:46 PM by The Maritime Executive

In a wave of executive orders signed within hours of assuming office, President Joe Biden redirected the orientation of American environmental policy with the stroke of a pen - and many of these changes will affect maritime interests. The U.S. is returning to the Paris Climate Accord, with potential implications for offshore energy development. The Keystone XL pipeline has been canceled again, reducing Canadian oil producers' access to Gulf Coast ports. And offshore drilling in the Bering Sea and portions of the Arctic OCS is once again off the table with a renewed drilling moratorium. 

Few of these proclamations will have an immediate effect - Keystone was already on pause due to a federal court order, there is little appetite for offshore drilling in Alaska at current oil prices, and the Paris Climate Accord has few hard-and-fast compliance requirements. Many of the other proposals will require a formal rulemaking process or new legislation. But the overall message could be summed up neatly with the White House's call for all agencies to "immediately commence work to confront the climate crisis," signaling more and deeper changes to come. 

The slew of orders contains a range of policy decisions that could affect the maritime and energy industries, including:

  • directing the Department of the Interior to halt activity related to drilling permits in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge;
  • initiating a regulatory process to restore the boundaries of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, established during the Obama era but rolled back under the previous administration;
  • initiating a rulemaking process to reinstate or revise fugitive emissions standards for methane from new oil and gas projects, and proposing new standards for existing operations;
  • establishing a commission to determine the "social cost" for emissions of CO2, NOx and methane, which federal agencies will be able to use to calculate the "global damages" of a given emissions source and the social benefits of reducing greenhouse gas output. 
  • and a freeze on all Trump-era regulatory actions still in process.

The executive orders also reflect the new administration's stance on the COVID-19 crisis, with a new mask mandate on all federal property and a CDC-led effort to encourage mask compliance at large.