Sunday, November 15, 2020

Climate Action and the Executive See-Saw

The U.S. Constitution neither defines nor precludes presidential executive orders, but every president since George Washington has issued at least one. The sole exception was William Henry Harrison, who died in office after only 31 days. In more recent presidencies, this would be ample time to issue orders, some of which are ready for a new president's signature before the Mayflower moving van has left the White House grounds on inauguration day.

Political observers now expect a sheaf of executive orders to be ready with each new administration because -- to some degree -- executive orders are sometimes made to be broken. This will certainly be the case with regard to executive action related to the environment in general and climate change in particular when the Biden Administration takes office on January 20, 2021.

Sadly, public policy is sometimes a game.
Image: Card Cow

A pair of recent segments from the public-radio program Living On Earth provide an overview of recent executive actions related to climate change and informed speculation about orders that may be issued just before and just after the moving vans arrive.

In March 2020, program host and environmental journalist extraordinaire Steve Curwood spoke with law professor Jody Freeman about the EPA's rush to rollback regulations before the election. The discussion draws on her experience as Counselor for Energy and Climate Change in the Obama administration, to quickly describe the most important environmental protections that are at stake. 

This is good preparation for a segment that aired today, in which Curwood returns to the topic of executive orders with economist Joe Aldy, who served on President Obama's 2008-2009 transition team. They explore President-elect Biden's environmental priorities. Aldy's experience 12 years ago gives him keen insight into what the outgoing president is likely to do and what tools the incoming president has available -- including the degree to which control of the Senate will matter.

Lagniappe

Just as I was posting this, I found a more detailed description of President-elect Biden's climate-related transition plans by journalists and Adam Aton and Jean Chemnick. The intention to address climate in nearly every department of government suggests the need for interdisciplinary approaches to the deepening climate crisis.

Moving two families during a ceremony -- even a long ceremony -- is daunting, but it is done every 4 to 8 years in the People's House. I once read that Mayflower (which seriously botched the 1997 Hayes-Boh family move) was always hired, but a quick image search suggests that competent companies also get the job sometimes, as in the January 2001 move shown above.



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