President Biden’s Executive Authority to Stop Fossil Fuels

Demand #1: President Biden must stop approving fossil fuel projects and speed the end of the fossil fuel era.

He can direct agencies in his administration to use authority under existing laws to reject fossil fuel projects. This includes:

  • Stopping all fossil fuel infrastructure project approvals. President Biden can apply the same logic he used to cancel Keystone XL to all fossil fuel infrastructure projects immediately. He can direct federal agencies to use their authority under existing laws like the National Environmental Policy Act and Clean Water Act to reject federal permit applications for all fossil fuel infrastructure projects including pipelines, import and export terminals, storage facilities, refineries, and petrochemical plants.
  • Following through on his promise to ban federal fossil fuel leasing and drilling: President Biden must immediately halt federal fossil fuel leasing and permitting on public lands and waters, complete the comprehensive review and rulemaking on the federal leasing program, and direct the Secretary of the Interior to permanently ban fossil fuel lease sales and enact a managed decline of fossil fuel production consistent with limiting warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. He should also direct the Secretary of the Interior to work with the Attorney General to review the lawfulness of existing fossil fuel leases on public lands and waters, and to cancel improperly issued leases.
  • Stopping fossil fuel exports. President Biden must reinstate the crude oil export ban through a National Emergencies Act declaration (see Demand #2) and direct the Department of Energy to reject applications for gas exports to the extent allowed by the Natural Gas Act.

Background & Rationale: Ending fossil fuel production is the only way to prevent irreversible climate catastrophe. Eighty-five percent of U.S. greenhouse emissions come from fossil fuels. Burning up just the oil, gas and coal already in development — where the infrastructure is built and capital sunk — will heat the planet well past the dangerous threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius. To maintain a livable climate, we must immediately halt fossil fuel expansion and phase out existing fossil fuel development before reserves are depleted. President Biden can and must lead this urgent transition off of fossil fuels through executive action.

Ending the fossil fuel era is also a public health and environmental justice necessity. Black, Indigenous, Brown, Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) and working-class communities are disproportionately harmed by fossil fuel projects due to generations of environmental racism. Communities living near fossil fuel production are forced to breathe heavily polluted air, which can result in serious health harms including cancer. One in five premature deaths worldwide are caused by fossil fuel combustion.

To follow through on his promise to be a champion for environmental justice, climate, and biodiversity protection, Biden must act swiftly to begin the phaseout of fossil fuel production nationwide through a just transition that protects workers and communities and curbs the twin climate and extinction crises.

Demand #2: President Biden must declare a national climate emergency and launch a just, renewable energy revolution.

He can do this by signing an executive order declaring a climate emergency under the National Emergencies Act, which unlocks unique statutory powers. These unlocked authorities will allow him to:

(a) Immediately reinstate the crude oil export ban.

(b) Direct the Secretary of Defense to redirect a portion of military spending to carry out a rapid construction program of renewable energy projects to meet a significant portion of the nation’s power needs

(c) Invoke the Defense Production Act to provide critical loan guarantees and ensure a comprehensive buildout of just, renewable energy development that creates millions of good union jobs.

Background & Rationale:

From drought to destructive megafires to devastating floods, the fossil-fueled climate emergency is already disrupting millions of lives. All of us are feeling the impact, and Black, Indigenous, Brown, AAPI and working-class communities are hit first and worst.

The solution to the crisis is also clear: We must transform our extractive, systemically racist economy to one that’s just and renewable.

By declaring a national climate emergency, President Biden can follow through on his promised “whole-of-government approach” to climate leadership, oversee a rapid, just buildout of renewable energy and launch the biggest jobs stimulus since World War II.

Congressional leaders have led the call for President Biden to utilize emergency powers to address the climate crisis, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senator Jeff Merkley. Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Earl Blumenauer, joined by Senator Bernie Sanders and dozens of other Congressmembers, co-sponsored a bill demanding Biden declare a climate emergency.

Declaring a climate emergency would unlock three critical actions with specific applications.

First, it enables Biden to reinstate the decades-long ban on crude oil exports. In 1975, Congress banned crude oil exports on national security grounds. Four decades later, in 2015, Congress lifted that ban, but empowered the president to reinstate it at any time on an annual basis under the National Emergencies Act. Today, the United States exports about a quarter of all crude oil produced in the United States. Biden cannot address the climate emergency or protect communities in the Gulf threatened by the buildout of new export terminals without using the authority granted by Congress to reinstate the ban on crude oil exports.

Second, Biden can invoke the National Emergencies Act to redirect a portion of military spending to carry out a rapid construction program of renewable energy projects across the country. The program should prioritize distributed, community solar, wind and battery storage sited on already-degraded environments. In doing so, it will generate a substantial number of new family-sustaining jobs.

Third, Biden can use the Defense Production Act — the same law he used to respond to the COVID-19 crisis — to oversee a coordinated, economy-wide investment in unionized, just, and renewable energy development. Biden should provide critical loan guarantees (i) to clean energy developers, including communities and cooperatives, to help cover upfront costs for new renewable generation; (ii) to building and home owners for building electrification,  weatherization,  and  energy  efficiency  upgrades, prioritizing low-wealth and BIPOC homeowner and renter communities to maximize energy democracy benefits; and  (iii)  to  compel utilities to transform the egregiously-outdated and unsafe grid system with technologies  that  are  aligned  with  a  resilient,  decentralized,  and  modern  energy system. In doing so, Biden can target resources and jobs to low-wealth communities and communities of color that are hardest hit by fossil fuel pollution and the climate emergency.