Biden Moves to Reverse Trump Environmental Policies
WASHINGTON—Businesses prepared for an era of stricter regulation Wednesday as President Biden ordered a review of dozens of environmental policies—foreshadowing more stringent efficiency requirements for auto makers and appliance manufacturers, new limits on mining and drilling on federal lands and tougher emissions standards for power plants.
The actions were aimed at reversing former President Donald Trump’s deregulatory push in environmental regulation, prompting optimism among many executives backing renewable technologies, but irking others.
Fossil-fuel companies are likely to be among Mr. Biden’s biggest opponents. Mike Sommers, president and chief executive of the American Petroleum Institute, used his annual address last week to strike a conciliatory tone at times, saying it wanted to work with Mr. Biden on emissions limits and trade policy.
But he also said the group would aggressively defend the industry on core interests, especially access to federal lands and offshore oil.
“The bottom line for us is that we are going to work with the Biden administration when we can, but we will oppose them when we must,” Mr. Sommers said. “We will do everything we can to fight for the oil-and-gas industry across the United States.”
Mr. Biden’s first-day agenda included revoking a permit granted by Mr. Trump to allow developers of the Keystone XL pipeline to extend it across the U.S.-Canada border.
The project developer, TC Energy Corp. , blasted the decision, saying it overturns “an unprecedented, comprehensive regulatory process that lasted more than a decade and repeatedly concluded the pipeline would transport much needed energy in an environmentally responsible way.” The company added: “The action would directly lead to the layoff of thousands of union workers and negatively impact groundbreaking industry commitments.”
But Keystone’s position—once a standard-bearer for heavy industry in opposition to the environmental movement—isn’t as common in the business world as it once was. Many corporate titans are now acting on climate change, reducing their greenhouse-gas emissions and asking for government support, a boost to Mr. Biden’s agenda.
Leading business and trade groups were among those expressing hope that Mr. Biden’s conciliatory tone and promise of bipartisan problem-solving will reduce congressional gridlock and help nurture new technologies.
“I understand how poisonous the atmosphere is, with everything that’s happened in the last few weeks. But there is an opportunity here,” said Marty Durbin, who leads the energy arm of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “We do have a chance to make significant progress across all of our policy priorities.”
The Chamber this week embraced the potential for market-based solutions, such as carbon taxes, to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, joining several major business groups that in recent months have said Congress needs to act.
After years of fighting these proposals, many businesses now support government action to address climate change, and are pushing for swift clarity on what those actions might be.
The Chamber supports the re-entry of the U.S. into the Paris agreement as a way to ensure U.S. global leadership and its place in international negotiations, Mr. Durbin said. There are economic and trade risks otherwise, he added, noting NextDecade Corp.’s loss of a multibillion-dollar gas contract earlier this year underreported pressure from the French government.
Many companies share that position, especially electric utilities and technology companies.
“U.S. re-entry into the Paris agreement will send an important signal to all sectors of the economy that the country intends to meet the objectives as outlined in the pact,” Duke Energy Corp. Chief Executive Lynn Good said.
Corporations including Dow Chemical Co. and Microsoft Corp., as well as the heads of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google, had urged Mr. Trump not to leave the pact in the first place. They have pressed for U.S. government support at a time when consumers and financiers want them to cut their greenhouse-gas emissions, and states and other countries are enforcing their own rules.
Mr. Biden’s lengthy lists of actions on the first day show these companies can now expect that support from their own federal government, said Michelle Patron, senior director of sustainability policy at Microsoft. It has its own corporate goal of not just zeroing out its emissions, but to start removing more emissions from the atmosphere than it produces by 2030.
“You’ve seen a number of companies, a wide range of companies that have made climate commitments, and they just can’t do it on their own,” Ms. Patron said. “They really need policy…to accelerate technology deployments and to boost the markets.”
In Europe and China, tough regulations helped propel growth in electric-vehicle sales last year. But in the U.S., sales of all-electric vehicles declined amid squabbles over vehicle-emissions policy.
The Trump administration worked to ease federal standards and make them harder to raise going forward. The Environmental Protection Agency said earlier this month that the most recent data on fuel efficiency for the U.S. fleet showed a decline for the first time in five years.
Tougher regulations would accelerate the market’s adoption of electric cars, said Joe Britton, executive director of the new Zero Emission Transportation Association, which counts companies such as Rivian Automotive LLC and Lucid Motors Inc. as members.
“It sends the right market signal that this is a transition that we are going to make in the next 10 to 15 years, and not the next 40 to 50,” Mr. Britton said.
The push to help electric cars is adding momentum to a budding political alliance between utilities and auto makers. That increasingly leaves oil producers and other fossil-fuel companies on the outside. Mr. Biden as a candidate said the country must start transitioning away from oil to cleaner fuels to address climate change.
In other action Wednesday, Mr. Biden planned to re-establish an interagency group to estimate the public health cost of greenhouse-gas emissions. He will also ask the Justice Department to reconsider a ban on settlement payouts often popular with companies to help poor and minority communities stricken with pollution.
Nearly half of the 103 polices under review will be at the EPA, including rules for how quickly water utilities must replace lead pipes and when energy companies can cross waterways with pipelines.
Both the Keystone decision and a boost to vehicle-efficiency standards would reverse big moves from Mr. Trump intended to help the oil industry. Mr. Biden’s first-day actions also seek to reimpose limits on the oil-and-gas industry’s methane emissions, put a hold on the industry’s access to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and review offshore drilling safety rules.
But that doesn’t mean even all oil companies are gearing up for a fight with Mr. Biden. Some, especially the European-based global majors, have made major investments in cleaner forms of energy and had already been fighting Mr. Trump for more regulations at times.
French energy giant Total SE announced last week it is leaving API. Royal Dutch Shell PLC said Mr. Biden’s moves on climate change, especially his decision on Paris, might make it more likely it invests in the U.S.
“Our investment in the U.S. is unrivaled within our portfolio, so it’s important we continue to make informed decisions about how and where to invest for future growth, including in low and no-carbon products, and emissions reductions that reinforce our U.S. investment case,” Shell U.S. President Gretchen Watkins said in a statement to The Wall Street Journal. “The path the U.S. takes on climate change, including the fostering of an environment that encourages innovation, is an important part of that future.”