Decoding EO 14008: What President Biden’s New Executive Order Means For the Climate Crisis

Ahmed Elsayyid, Staff Writer, Environmental Editor

In the honeymoon period of his new term in office, President Biden attempted to make good on a central promise of his 2020 campaign. 

His executive order, “Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad,” or EO 14008, enforced sweeping actions on this policy priority. The order was centered around an emphasis on jobs, seeking to counter a major GOP talking point against aggressive climate initiatives.

Biden walked a narrow rope on climate issues during the campaign season, offering voters ambitious, yet vague and at times contradictory, promises. Despite sharing his party’s overall enthusiasm for tackling climate change, he proposed several concessions during the general election to attract moderate voters, including the famous “I will not ban fracking” vow.

The executive order directs the Department of the Interior to pause oil and gas drilling leases on federal lands and water, which would cover over 166 million acres of land owned by the federal government that can be leased to private companies for energy development. 

Existing energy leases will be reviewed. However, the order focuses on new leases in order to facilitate a smooth transition away from fossil fuel development. The order also aims to conserve at least 30% of federal lands and oceans by 2030.

Biden asserts that jobs meeting demand for wind and solar infrastructure would cover job losses in the fossil fuel industry, including US regions reliant on the boom in fracking. The President offered action to accelerate the transition away from gasoline-powered cars by using the government’s purchasing power to buy clean-powered vehicles, with the goal of “one million new jobs in the American automobile industry.”

Critics have blasted Biden’s order as detrimental to an economy recovering from the impact of COVID-19 lockdowns. After killing Keystone XL Pipeline construction, stifling energy development and ending US energy independence all within his first month in office, Biden’s policies have been perceived by many as tone-deaf to record unemployment numbers that plague the nation’s recovery.

Whether Biden’s order will ultimately provide sustainable employment and meaningful climate progress, it stands nonetheless as a rare instance of bold government climate action despite cries from American Big Oil. Nearly a quarter of all US carbon emissions is fossil fuel extracted from federal lands, dealing a massive blow to the industry. Although a comprehensive federal response to climate change would require congressional approval, early action by the President establishes the issue as a top first-term priority.

EO 14008 also distinguishes Biden sharply from his Republican predecessor: Former President Trump dramatically expanded energy leases upon entering office, along with tossing Obama-era regulation on access to clean air and water and relaxing pollution rules affecting coal and gas-burning power plants, the latter being overturned by federal courts. Although Biden’s power to act through executive action is limited, the order signals a new tone on the world stage to reassert American leadership in the global fight against climate catastrophe.

You can read Mr. Biden’s executive order here.