Another day, another flurry of executive actions from new President Joe Biden. Yesterday's orders included one on "Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad," a behemoth that features new bureaucracy creation and international summits interspersed with pledges to tackle everything from minority representation in certain business sectors to union job creation under the mantle of climate change.
Biden's climate change order rejoins the U.S. in the Paris Agreement (which, as Reason's Ron Bailey notes, former President Barack Obama signed in 2016 "as an executive agreement rather than a treaty requiring Senate approval").
It creates the Civilian Climate Corps Initiative, the Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, the White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy, the National Climate Task Force, a world leaders' climate summit, the Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization, and the White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council.
It is flush with phrases like "multilateral and bilateral channels and institutions" and other language that drips with officialese but doesn't really tell us much, plus oodles of ordering various agencies and departments to prepare reports—on their own environmental impact, how they are considering climate change concerns in initiatives abroad, and so on.
As with many of former President Donald Trump's executive orders, it's a bit hard to tell whether the Biden climate order portends huge changes or is basically just something to keep bureaucrats busy and get the president good marks for speaking the language of his base.
It does make a few concrete changes right away. One of those is the order to "pause new oil and natural gas leases on public lands or in offshore waters pending completion of a comprehensive review and reconsideration of Federal oil and gas permitting and leasing practices." And it directs officials to ensure that "federal funding is not directly subsidizing fossil fuels."
But there is also a lot of rah-rah rhetoric around solving climate emergencies with teamwork and unity, and pledges to make all the good things happen through… federal agency recommendations, proclamations, reports, and consideration.
The order says officials must "publish recommendations on how certain Federal investments might be made toward a goal that 40 percent of the overall benefits flow to disadvantaged communities." It promises "more opportunities for women and people of color in occupations where they are underrepresented" and to "foster economic revitalization of and investment in [mining] communities, ensure the creation of good jobs that provide a choice to join a union, and secure the benefits that have been earned by workers."
"Climate considerations shall be an essential element of United States foreign policy and national security," it states. Climate change scenarios will be integrated into war games. The director of national intelligence will issue a report. The directors of myriad other agencies will issue reports. The treasury secretary will see that we're "engaged in relevant international fora and institutions that are working on the management of climate-related financial risks." And so on.
The climate change order comes on the heels of a Biden order halting construction of the Keystone XL pipeline and as a run-up to two executive orders related to Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act, which Biden is supposed to put out today.
Alas, this seems to be our new political normal, where Congress basically only exists to approve budgets and hold show hearings against disfavored industries, the president governs unilaterally through executive directives, and every few years a new administration will use its new executive pens and paper to undo everything the former one just did.
This isn't to say that Biden shouldn't have revoked any of Trump's executive orders, many of which were themselves beyond the scope of healthy presidential power.
But Biden has issued many more executive orders and actions of his own since taking office just over a week ago—at least 10 in the past three days, in addition to at least 27 executive actions issued last Wednesday through Friday.
Some people see this as a symptom of political polarization. They say that with Republicans and Democrats in Congress—and the constituencies they represent—so at odds, passing grand new initiatives is impossible and the president has no choice but to do Congress' job when it can't.
But executive overreach isn't the solution to political polarization. Executive overreach causes political polarization. Government overreach in general causes political polarization.
In a well-functioning democratic system, you know your side losing an election might mean some changes or bring some policies you don't like, but the stakes don't reach into every aspect of your life. The changes, when they come, will be well-fought-over and incremental (as using government force to make things happen in a pluralistic society must be). New administrations aren't coming in like some home makeover TV show host, ready to immediately tear down everything the previous occupant put up and then swiftly impose their own singular vision of what the country should look like.
— Kennedy (@KennedyNation) January 28, 2021
• "At least two journalists tested positive for coronavirus after witnessing the Trump administration's final three federal executions, but the Bureau of Prisons knowingly withheld the diagnoses from other media witnesses and did not perform any contact tracing," the Associated Press reports.
• "In July of 2016, Angela Calloway arrived at the Augusta Correctional Center in Craigsville, Virginia, to visit with an inmate" and was ordered to "remove her clothes and tampon so prison guards could inspect her vaginal and anal cavities for contraband." A federal court says the search was constitutional and upheld a lower court ruling that the guards involved couldn't be sued because of qualified immunity.
• "Cancel culture" is more aptly described as "snitch culture."
• It's comeback time (sigh):
Scoop: the Senate Conservatives Fund has rallied to Josh Hawley's defense, dropping nearly $400k on emails and texts supporting his objection to Biden's electoral college victory and raising another $310k for his campaign directly https://t.co/P9kNILiMSy
— Lachlan Markay (@lachlan) January 28, 2021
"Fifty percent of Republican voters polled in the new Morning Consult survey said Trump should play a 'major role' in the party, an increase of 9 percentage points since his supporters rioted at the U.S. Capitol." https://t.co/PcbADmczEU
— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) January 28, 2021