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Biden Administration Turns Its Attention To Climate Crisis

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Biden will sign an order today pausing new oil and gas drilling on federal land. It's one of several climate-focused executive actions. President Biden has called climate change a global crisis and one of the biggest threats facing the United States. NPR White House correspondent Scott Detrow is following this and joins us now. Hi, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: All right. So what are the details of today's order?

DETROW: We have not seen the exact language yet and that is important to flag. We expect to see it later today after we hear from the president. But according to White House officials, Biden is going to direct the Department of Interior to pause oil and gas leasing on federal land and offshore water and review all existing leasing. This was a big campaign promise, and it would have a big impact on the U.S. climate footprint. Drilling on federal land is - accounts for about a quarter of the country's total emissions. I mentioned we haven't read the details yet, and that's important because the acting interior secretary has already ordered a 60-day pause on new leases. And we don't know yet how much further today's order goes. We do know, though, that it would not cover tribal lands. And it's also worth flagging, this would apply to new leases. This would not stop existing, already happening drilling.

MARTIN: This is not the only action that he's taken today on climate change, right? What else is coming?

DETROW: Yeah. Biden talked a lot about climate change during the campaign. He really focused on it more than any other previous presidential nominee. And a lot of those processes will begin the long - a lot of those promises, rather, will begin the long process of being put into place today. Among other things, he's going to direct federal agencies to look at how to shift from - to zero-emission electricity and ordering more zero-emission vehicles. He's also going to order a push to conserve 30% of federal lands by 2030 and double wind production on federal land, among other things.

MARTIN: A big part of the climate story over the past four years was the fact that the Trump administration pulled out of international efforts to lower emissions. President Biden has already rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement. I mean, he's got his work cut out for him, though, when it comes to convincing allies abroad that the U.S. is serious about this issue, I imagine.

DETROW: He definitely does. And the rest of the world is pretty skeptical and will remain skeptical. The main thing that countries committed to in Paris is setting clear goals for how they are going to lower their own carbon emissions. So today, Biden is going to sign something beginning the process of updating the U.S.'s goals. You know, when the agreement was signed in 2016, experts said it's a good start, but it doesn't go anywhere near far enough to avoid the worst of climate change.

So there's agreement that all countries need to expand those goals. Biden is also announcing a global summit on climate change for Earth Day, April 22. It's partially symbolic, you know, convening world leaders to talk about climate change, whether that can happen in person or Zoom at that point, will be a big sign the U.S. has reversed course from the Trump administration and wants to engage with allies on this again.

MARTIN: I mean, we've seen President Biden using executive action so quickly now. We always sort of need to take a pause - right? - and talk about the limits of those executive actions. Where do they work and where don't they? I mean, what's to prevent another administration from overturning them?

DETROW: Yeah. Biden has set these enormous climate goals of having the entire economy be carbon neutral by 2050. That just can't happen without congressional action. And we know that this is a narrowly divided Congress. And most Republican officeholders are still deeply skeptical of the big policies that would be needed to lower carbon emissions. So that's going to be a tough fight for the Biden administration.

MARTIN: NPR White House correspondent Scott Detrow. Thank you, Scott. We appreciate it.

DETROW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.