Biden Energy Plan Puts Science and the Public Trust First to Protect the Climate, Fresh Water

Skip Pruss is the former FLOW board chair, and former director of the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth.

Above photo courtesy of Biden-Harris transition

By Skip Pruss

History will mark 2021 as the year the United States finally got serious about combating climate change and protecting water security.

The Biden administration appears to fully comprehend the depth and gravity of current climate trends and is prepared to take action commensurate with the challenges we face. The Biden transition team has already developed detailed plans integrating consideration of climate impacts into the federal government’s core mission, programs, and policies.

The Biden Plan for A Clean Energy Revolution And Environmental Justice is a call to immediate action, using existing federal agency resources and tools to jumpstart efforts to accelerate deployment of clean energy technologies, reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at their sources, and adopt agricultural and public land management practices that sequester carbon.

“Every dollar spent toward rebuilding our roads, bridges, buildings, the electric grid, and our water infrastructure will be used to prevent, reduce, and withstand a changing climate.

– Biden Climate Plan

The climate crisis is time critical. 

As the global economy continues to pump billions of tons of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the window of opportunity to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change is rapidly closing.  Climate science tells us that the warming effects of GHGs persist in the atmosphere, and the cumulative loading of these pollutants will soon increase global temperatures more than 1.5 degrees Celsius — unless we take immediate action.

The last four years brought federal policies aimed at increasing the development and use of fossil fuels, exacerbating the crisis and squandering precious time. Decarbonizing the global economy is now an existential imperative.

“Precisely because we’ve waited so long to take any significant action, physics now demands we move much faster than we want to.”

– Bill McKibben, founder of the grassroots climate campaign 350.org

That is why the incoming Biden Administration’s climate plan is so important. 

The Biden plan represents a radical departure from status quo policies that created the climate crisis. Key directives include:

  • Achieving a 100% clean energy economy and net-zero emissions no later than 2050 with an enforceable 2025 interim goal.
  • Committing that every federal infrastructure investment should reduce climate pollution and requiring any federal permitting decision to consider the effects of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.
  • Banning new oil and gas permitting on public lands and waters, demanding a worldwide ban on fossil fuel subsidies, eliminating international financing of dirty energy, and “naming and shaming global climate outlaws.”
  • Requiring public companies to disclose climate risks and the greenhouse gas emissions in their operations and supply chains.
  • Developing rigorous new fuel economy standards aimed at ensuring 100% of new sales for light- and medium-duty vehicles will be electrified.
  • Designing a framework to limit greenhouse gas emissions related to land use, forests, and agriculture and promulgating new standards for the greening of manufacturing, mining, and tourism.
  • Protecting biodiversity, slowing extinction rates, and helping leverage natural climate solutions by conserving 30% of America’s lands and waters by 2030. 
  • Implementing community-driven approaches to develop solutions for environmental injustices affecting communities of color, low-income, and indigenous communities.

      Effectively attacking climate change entails eliminating the carbon contribution of the global energy system, reforming land and water management practices, and greatly enhancing the capacity of government to mitigate and adapt to climate change. It also requires putting science first and recognizing that the earth’s hydrosphere is one inextricably interconnected global system — a “commons” upon which we all depend that must be protected by the government as a public trust and managed using the best science available.

      FLOW has long advocated broad application of the Public Trust Doctrine as a framework for recognizing that the atmosphere, land, and water is one dynamic, integrated natural system upon which the health and vitality of all life depends. FLOW’s efforts to shut down Line 5 are motivated not only by the need to protect the Great Lakes — the largest and most valuable freshwater system in the world — from a catastrophic pipeline failure, but also by the recognition that continued long-term investment in fossil fuel infrastructure is inconsistent with our responsibility to protect the planet.

      FLOW’s approach to advancing policy to protect our Great Lakes has been ambitious and cutting-edge. We have advocated for broad application of the Public Trust Doctrine as a legally required fiduciary duty of government to protect the common interest in public trust resources for the benefit of all citizens.

      FLOW has been steadfast in carrying out its mission, and today FLOW’s successes have measurably enhanced state, federal, and international governance to better protect the environment:

      • In response to FLOW’s advocacy, the International Joint Commission has embraced the Public Trust Doctrine as the management framework for protection of Great Lakes waters.
      • FLOW’s constant efforts to prevent commodification of water by private corporations have successfully pushed back on efforts to expand water extraction for private sale.
      • Most recently, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel have moved to shut down Line 5, the 67-year-old oil pipeline that presents a clear and present danger to our environment and our regional economy. As advocated by FLOW, the Governor’s and Attorney General’s legal actions are based upon the application of the Public Trust Doctrine.

      FLOW commends the Biden Administration’s unprecedented efforts to address the climate crisis. We will continue to advocate for science-based, state-of-the-art policy, and we will continue to coordinate and collaborate with local, state, and federal agencies and commissions in implementing efficient, effective climate solutions.

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