Joe Biden's first day in office will keep him mighty busy. The president-elect has a whole stack of executive orders to sign after his inauguration, including a couple that will seek to undo some of the damages of the Trump administration and right the country's course when it comes to addressing climate change. On Day One of the Biden administration, the incoming president is expected to sign an executive order that will cancel the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, according to a report from The New York Times. He also will reportedly sign an order to rejoin the Paris climate agreement.
The Keystone XL pipeline has been a major source of controversy since it was first proposed in 2008. The massive, international 1,200-mile system — an expansion of an existing international pipeline — was to be built to transport crude oil from Canada’s tar sands reserves to refineries across the United States, moving as much as 830,000 barrels of oil per day that were intended to be exported.
Despite being approved by a Republican-controlled Congress in 2015, the pipeline has largely been stuck in development. Former President Barack Obama vetoed the project at the time, temporarily killing the project and avoiding what would have been a major blight on his administration's record on climate change. However, as soon as Trump took office, the pipeline was revived. President Trump signed an executive order in 2017 granting approval for the construction of the oil transportation system, despite the fact that the existing Keystone pipeline had recently experienced a significant oil spill. Though legal challenges have persisted, the project has moved forward with the backing of the Trump administration, and the first significant piece of the disputed pipeline was completed last spring.
Biden's planned executive order, which was identified on a public memo published by Biden's incoming chief of staff Ronald Klain as "Rescind Keystone XL pipeline permit," will put an end to that ongoing construction. The expected action by Biden will restore the federal government's position of the Obama years; that administration rejected the pipeline on the grounds that it would undermine American leadership in the push for sustainable energy alternatives. Back in 2015, Obama's State Department concluded that the Keystone XL pipeline “would not serve the national interests of the United States,” and would “not make a meaningful long-term contribution to our economy." Biden, who was vice president at the time that the State Department came to that conclusion, appears ready to once again embrace that view and will revoke the permits that would allow the pipeline to go forward.
The U.S. is already the leading producer of oil and one of the world's largest exporters of the dirty burning fuel source even without the Keystone XL pipeline in operation. But the decision to kill the project signals a shift in environmental policy under the Biden administration. It will also give the U.S. better standing globally, which will be helpful as the country seeks to re-establish itself as part of the international community's efforts to combat climate change.
Biden's other major climate initiatives that he plans to enact on his first day in office deal with exactly that. Reports indicate that Biden will sign an executive order that will see the U.S. once again join the Paris Agreement, an international accord that seeks to unify countries in the effort to reduce carbon emissions and keep the planet from warming to potentially unsustainable levels. The Paris Agreement requires countries to provide one month's notice to be brought into the fold, and the executive action will serve as that sign of intent. The U.S. will be able to officially rejoin the informal treaty by Feb. 19, assuming Biden signs the order on Jan. 20.
These actions are expected to just be the first in a series of executive orders addressing climate change that Biden intends to sign in his first week in office. The Trump administration left Biden with a major mess to clean up, so hopefully there is plenty of ink in the executive pen.