5 Action Steps for the EPA to Lead a National Mobilization to Defeat the Climate Crisis

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Today, President-elect Biden selected a strong leader with on-the-ground climate experience to head up the Environmental Protection Agency. Michael Regan has led the way in North Carolina to take strong climate action and clean up pollution, by working closely with community groups and addressing environmental racism.

It’s hard to imagine a bigger sea change in EPA leadership than the switch from a coal lobbyist to a proven state leader on climate action. Donald Trump’s EPA laid waste to environmental protections. Michael Regan has the experience necessary to restore the EPA to its mission and go on offense to defeat the climate crisis. He reached a nationally renowned settlement on coal ash pollution, and he made North Carolina into a leading state on environmental justice. After decades of environmental policy disproportionately impacting communities of color, it is historic for the Biden Administration to nominate the first Black male EPA Administrator.

Under Michael Regan, the EPA can once again lead on climate policy. The agency must utilize the Clean Air Act to move our economy towards 100% clean energy–enforcing stringent decarbonization standards in the power, transportation, buildings and industrial sectors. The agency must also deliver on Biden’s promise to allot 40% of federal green investments in disadvantaged communities through a revamped national Equity Map.

It will not be enough for us to just turn back the clock to 2016. The Environmental Protection Agency has much damage to undo, but it also has an unprecedented opportunity to defeat the climate crisis and create millions of good-paying jobs in the process.

Michael Regan served at the EPA for over a decade under two different presidents. During his time, he served as national program manager for the Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards. He now serves as Secretary of North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality. Recently, he forced a settlement for Duke Energy, a massive national energy corporation, to excavate 80 million tons of coal ash, the largest coal ash clean up in the nation.

As President-elect Biden begins an all-out government mobilization to defeat the climate crisis, Evergreen Action is releasing roadmaps for key federal agencies to contribute to the effort. Below are 5 concrete actions the EPA can take to go on the offensive in the mobilization to defeat the climate crisis:

The EPA has the legal authority to regulate greenhouse gases, along with particulate and criteria air pollution, under the Clean Air Act. In order to move toward President-elect Biden’s goals of a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035 and a net-zero economy by 2050, the EPA must move immediately to develop new regulations under this authority to block the construction of new polluting power plants, and to limit carbon emissions from existing plants. These actions should be undertaken simultaneously with the EPA’s immediate efforts to reverse Trump administration clean air rollbacks, and to issue new rules for mercury and air toxics, ozone, and more — limiting these deadly pollutants in every community and prioritizing reductions in disadvantaged communities, in particular those facing disparate health impacts and significant cumulative pollution burdens.

The Clean Air Act also gives the EPA authority to regulate emissions from cars, trucks, and other vehicles. In order to accelerate a nationwide transition to 100% clean zero-emission cars, the EPA should work with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), states, auto workers, automotive manufacturing industries, and environmental advocates to develop ambitious new emissions standards for all vehicle classes. The EPA should then also look to other existing authorities, like the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), to further help drive vehicle and transportation decarbonization. And the Biden administration must prioritize investments in electric vehicle manufacturing and infrastructure in its negotiations with Congress over economic recovery. Further, EPA should partner with the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development to accelerate deployment of new vehicle charging infrastructure and other advanced clean energy infrastructure in support of rapidly and successfully meeting the administration’s ambitious new 100% Clean Car Standard.

One of the first and most critical steps that the EPA can take to enable all agencies to prioritize justice for front-line and marginalized communities should be to launch the development of a revamped federal Equity Mapping tool to measure the overlapping, cumulative harms of pollution, climate impacts, poverty, and systemic racism. This initiative should build upon the EPA’s existing EJSCREEN Tool, and engage other federal agencies with non-environmental community data, like income and race. An Equity Map would help enable President-elect Biden’s campaign pledge to direct 40% of clean energy investments toward disadvantaged communities, by presenting detailed localized information about the cumulative impacts of environmental harms, economic inequality, and other socio-economic indicators. The development of the mapping initiative should include extensive consultation with environmental justice advocacy groups and front-line community members about which data will be used in the map’s creation as well as how the map will be used to direct resources. This must be part of a comprehensive federal agenda for environmental justice in which EPA leadership must be central.

The Trump administration has rolled back more than 100 environmental protection regulations in order to advance their fossil-fueled, pro-polluter agenda, most of which impacted EPA policies. Starting on Day One, the Biden administration should begin reversing Trump’s efforts to turn the EPA into the Polluter Protection Agency, and should replace Trump’s industry-friendly rules with real protections for our climate, natural resources, and public health. The Biden administration should start this process by prioritizing the most high-impact rules in terms of carbon emissions, including rollbacks related to power plant pollution, methane leaks, vehicle emissions, and hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) restrictions, and by directing the EPA to fulfill its core mission by strengthening its enforcement of polluter violations of environmental law.

According to EPA data, direct and indirect emissions from buildings and the industrial sector — which includes heating and cooling, construction, production of materials like steel and concrete, and more — together account for roughly 34% of all US greenhouse gas emissions, along with other pollutants like nitrogen dioxide. The agency should use its authority under the Clean Air Act to develop new rules to set ambitious standards to accelerate the decarbonization of buildings and industry and improve indoor air quality during this time of pandemic. These should include new standards for buildings, mechanical equipment like hot water heaters and HVAC heat pumps, as well as home appliances, and industrial manufacturing equipment and processes. EPA should partner closely with the Department of Energy to accelerate standards development, and to link these standards with programs to promote technology deployment on the ground through consumer incentives and state and local building codes.

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