After four years of environmental protection rollbacks, experts at a February 4 panel co-sponsored by the SPA Center for Environmental Policy (CEP) expressed optimism that the change in leadership at the White House will usher in a new agenda.
“President Biden himself has prioritized dealing with climate change, protecting public health, making progress on environmental justice, and restoring the proper place of science and the rule of law in policy making,” said Joseph Goffman, acting assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “The President's [recent] executive orders . . . reflect those very priorities and commit to putting them into action.”
The Trump administration scrapped a list of environmental regulations, undermining public health and climate action, said CEP Director Dan Fiorino, who co-sponsored the event with the American Lung Association and the AU Center for Environmental Filmmaking.
Full video of the event
“It’s great to hear that the EPA is back in the clean air and climate business,” said Fiorino.
Ann Weeks, senior counsel and legal director of the nonprofit Clean Air Task Force, applauded the Biden administration’s embrace of science and re-establishment of the interagency group working on the social cost of greenhouse gases. Also, she welcomed a move to modernize regulatory review to reflect the importance of technological advancements.
“Regulation can be positively technology-forcing, creating incentives for American innovation and new approaches and new ideas, which creates jobs of all kinds,” said Weeks, noting the potential for growth in building infrastructure, research and development, and commercial spaces. “I’m encouraged that the administration in week two seems to be rushing ahead toward these improvements.”
Adrienne Hollis, senior climate justice and health scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, noted that people of color and those from low-income households are more likely to live near polluters and suffer higher rates of health problems as a result. She encouraged the new administration to recognize the compounding and deadly effects of COVID-19, structural racism, environmental injustice, and climate change.
“The general public needs to be involved early and often from the very beginning – not after legislation has been developed” in order to hold policymakers accountable for environmental policy, she said. “In that way, they can develop trust and re-instate credibility, which we’ve lost these last four years.”
Frontline communities continue to be burdened by air pollution, said Ali Mirzakhalili, air quality division administrator for the state of Oregon. He suggested that environmental justice be integrated into every program across the EPA, and that the federal government engage new partners.
“State and local programs have been at the forefront of innovation and have tremendous expertise and experience. Most are eager to quickly assist and partner with the EPA,” Mirzakhalili said.
Marcy Reed, president of Massachusetts power provider National Grid, pointed to industry support for federal regulation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, mitigate climate impacts, and return to the Paris climate agreement.
“We all know we are at a pivotal point in the energy transition, and utilities have a role to ensure we have clean air for our kids to breathe,” said Reed. National Grid has worked toward net-zero emission targets by reducing plant emissions, replacing leaking pipes, promoting energy efficiency, and moving to electrical vehicles.
Fiorino commended the panelists for emphasizing credibility and justice, the need for community partnerships and collaboration with utilities, disparities in environmental protection, and better air quality monitoring. “The roadmap points us to a very busy highway. There is a lot to be done.”