The Biden administration provides an opportunity to protect the environment and avert a climate disaster. There is no guarantee. It’s up to us. Just like we rise to defend against threats, we must rise to answer opportunities.
How do we navigate together?
Below are our top priorities for the first 100 days of the Biden administration and a primer on the tools available to make immediate changes.
During this time of political change, Riverkeeper will stick to the values and strategies that have proven successful. We will continue to take on the most dangerous threats, biggest polluters, and thorniest problems. We will challenge the bad and promote the good. As we navigate together, we commit to:
Be relentless. Now is not the time to sit back and watch. It is time to double down on our efforts to fight the fossil fuel industry and enact strong climate policies. We cannot let devastating fires and extreme weather become the norm. We will ramp up our creative legal work and community organizing to seize this opportunity for real change.
Be inclusive. The work to protect clean water and our climate is directly tied to social justice. We will listen to and partner with Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities. We will use our privilege to promote justice.
Enforce the law. We will not back down from corporate law firms, lobbyists, and their cronies. Riverkeeper’s team of five environmental attorneys will sue illegal polluters and challenge dangerous industrial projects in court. We will use the law to level the playing field and spur public engagement.
Listen and reflect. Good advocates always believe they are right. We must balance this with humility and self-reflection as an organization. We will pause, evaluate, and ask for feedback. Own our mistakes. Listen.
Keep it local. We are 100% focused on local and regional issues. We live here, raise our families here, and build long-term relationships here. You do not have to worry about Riverkeeper shifting its priorities elsewhere.
Be grateful. What better job than to protect the environment and work with amazing people? We will always be grateful to our members for your trust and donations as we put every dollar to work.
Our top priorities for the first 100 days of the Biden administration
Rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement. This is fast and easy via executive order. Once we become a party to the agreement, we must submit a target for greenhouse gas emissions.
Stop expedited approval of fossil fuel infrastructure. Trump Executive Order 13868 sought to expedite fossil fuel infrastructure like oil and gas pipelines and terminals. This led to the Dept. of Transportation passing a rule to approve LNG-by-rail and EPA passing a rule to limit state authority to deny fossil fuel projects under section 401 of the Clean Water Act. The Biden administration should revoke Trump’s executive order, direct the Dept. of Transportation to reconsider LNG-by-rail (hint: it’s dangerous), and direct EPA to reconsider its rules on section 401. Pacific Northwest (PNW) connection: Oregon and Washington denied LNG and coal terminals using state authority under Clean Water Act section 401. We must restore states’ power.
Commit to greenhouse gas reduction. Biden should issue an executive order to formalize his greenhouse gas campaign promises to eliminate carbon pollution from the electric sector by 2035 and achieve zero emissions by 2050. He also pledged to spend $2 trillion over four years to boost renewables and create incentives for more energy-efficient cars, homes and commercial buildings. PNW connection: Biden’s plan is far from perfect and we must demand better. His electricity plan includes new nuclear and fracked gas power plants. He should expressly prohibit new fossil fuel infrastructure, which continues to target the Columbia River.
Limit methane emissions from oil and gas. EPA should reinstate Obama-era rules or pass better rules to limit methane—a potent greenhouse gas—released in the production, processing, transmission, and storage of oil and gas. PNW connection: On the Columbia, we continue to fight fossil fuel infrastructure that would greatly increase methane emissions during fracking, shipping, and refining. New rules will make fracking less profitable.
Safeguard all streams and wetlands. The Trump EPA passed rules limiting the scope of the Clean Water Act to exclude some ephemeral streams and wetlands from federal protection. The Biden EPA should reinstate the Obama-era “Waters of the United States” rule. PNW connection: Ecologically valuable high desert streams and wetlands in Oregon and Washington deserve protection under the Clean Water Act.
Protect public lands. Biden’s Dept. of Interior should reinstate restrictions on oil and gas development in sage grouse habitat. Trump’s Dept. of Interior reduced sage grouse protections on nine million acres to allow oil and gas drilling. PNW connection: The sagebrush sea is a critical ecosystem in our region. You can see the endangered sage grouse in central Oregon performing its incredible mating displays each spring.
Reverse expedited approval of fracked gas exports. Biden’s Dept. of Energy should repeal Trump’s fast-tracking and go further to require the department to conduct a lifecycle analysis of greenhouse gases that accounts for the competition with renewable energy. PNW connection: Our region is threatened by huge fracked gas export projects, including methanol and LNG.
Historically, even during the Obama administration, most federal agencies rubber-stamped permits. This must change under the Biden administration. Our climate simply cannot afford any new fossil fuel infrastructure projects. PNW connection: We have successfully defended the Columbia by focusing our efforts on state and local permits, where we have stronger influence. A responsible federal government, however, can support our movement and state leaders.
In addition to these regulatory actions, the Biden administration must also:
- Invest in equity and environmental justice. While Biden has pledged to make a “historic investment” in environmental justice, we must advocate that real money and real opportunities flow to our most impacted communities. Riverkeeper will focus our advocacy on support for Columbia River communities, both urban and rural.
- Appoint environmental champions. Trump filled his administration with oil and gas industry insiders. The Biden administration should appoint a diverse, equity-focused team of environmental champions. Riverkeeper will work with partners to recommend and advocate for these champions.
- Ramp up enforcement. Trump’s Dept. of Justice gave most polluters a free pass. This must stop. Biden has pledged to establish a new Environmental and Climate Justice Division within the Dept. of Justice. If adequately funded, this change to focus on climate and justice is positive.
We believe the Biden administration provides an opportunity for strong environmental policies, but this will require strategic asks and strong public pressure. Together, we can seize the opportunity, while continuing to focus on the best ways to protect the Pacific Northwest.
For a thorough list of Biden’s options, see Climate Reregulation in a Biden Administration, Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, Columbia Law School