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A Crucial Transition for the Environment

Ohio Environmental Council, January 20, 2021

Today, the Biden-Harris Administration will take the reins of a tense but resilient nation. 

The past four years have challenged our work to secure a healthier environment and stronger democracy, including a number of highly controversial and dangerous policy fights. On the global stage, the Trump administration reverted course on the Paris Climate Accord, turning its back on the fight for climate action and justice. Here at home, numerous executive orders actively worked to undermine critical policies like the Clean Water Act and EPA’s New Source Performance Standards regulating methane pollution. With steadfast determination the Trump administration purposefully attempted to erase or reverse countless science-driven policies to protect our air, water, and public lands. Freezing and undoing these environmental protection rollbacks must be a top priority for the incoming Biden administration.

President Biden and Vice President Harris ran on the strongest climate and environmental justice platform ever advanced by a presidential ticket. Their qualified, diverse and tenacious Cabinet nominees reflect their commitment to act swiftly.

There are numerous priorities that deserve immediate attention from the Biden-Harris administration during their first 100 days in office—a critical time for every administration to set policy priorities, secure executive and legislative victories, and fulfill their decisive mandate. We look forward to working with the administration to achieve these initial policy priorities and to ensure a healthier environment and more sustainable path forward for all.


Rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement: The short-sighted decision to remove the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement makes Americans less safe, our businesses less competitive, and places an immense burden on future generations. We encourage the Biden administration to reverse all climate related executive orders made by the Trump administration on Day 1 and rejoin the Paris Agreement. 

Implement the Build Back Better Climate Plan: We encourage the Biden administration to continue working with and learning from the lessons of local and state climate leaders in implementing the Build Back Better Climate Plan. The climate plan includes commitments to new sectoral standards and strategies for agriculture, buildings, electricity, industry and transportation—including 100 percent carbon-free electricity by the year 2035—to lead in reaching net-zero greenhouse gas pollution throughout the U.S. economy by midcentury. The investments proposed in this plan can make a huge impact on our local communities, especially those historically impacted by climate and environmental injustices.  


Reinstate Methane Rules: In August 2020, U.S. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler finalized the elimination of direct regulation of methane from the EPA’s New Source Performance Standards. This eliminated the methane emissions limits and regularly scheduled methane leak monitoring and repairs that were instituted in 2016 for new sources in the oil and gas industry. In addition, the move prevents federal oversight and methane pollution limits for the more than 850,000 older oil and gas sites throughout the country. More than 3 million Ohioans live within a half-mile of an oil and gas site and are vulnerable to these pollutants. We encourage the reinstatement of the EPA’s New Source Performance Standards, and to go further by regulating existing sources as well.


Reinstate the “Clean Water Rule” definition: The Trump administration’s “Dirty Water Rule” removed certain wetlands and perennial streams from Clean Water Act (CWA) coverage. These are key sources of drinking water for millions of Americans. Reinstating the “Clean Water Rule” and redefining which waterways and water bodies are covered under the CWA should be a high priority of the U.S. EPA and Army Corps of Engineers. Setting this course by Executive Order would allow for these agencies to begin this work and rule development from the outset.

Roll back the so-called “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science”: The Biden administration should roll back the so-called “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science” rule to better ensure the integrity of the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. The rule requires scientists to disclose raw data if the study being used to craft regulation includes private medical information. Yet, private medical information cannot be made publicly available under federal privacy requirements. Clearly the intent of this rule was to severely limit the ability of U.S. EPA regulators to use meaningful scientific and health data in rule-making.

Eliminate Toxic Algae in Lake Erie: Harmful algal blooms (HABs) continue to threaten drinking water sources across the nation, including Lake Erie. More than 3 million Ohioans depend on Lake Erie for their drinking water, including Toledo residents who were not able  to use their water for 3 days back in 2014 when a toxic bloom got into their water treatment system. We need the U.S. EPA to leverage its regulatory authority to better utilize Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) that have measurable goals with accountability for achieving those nutrient reduction goals. Specifically to Lake Erie, the U.S. and Canada are committed to reducing HABs causing phosphorus from entering our Great Lake by 40% by 2025. We are nowhere near reaching that goal and we need regulators like the U.S. EPA to better lead states and stakeholders to reach our commitment.

Strengthen Ohio River Water Quality Improvements: The Ohio Environmental Council recently joined Sierra Club and dozens of other Ohio River-focused organizations to call for a TMDL to protect the Ohio River from nutrient pollution. The U.S. EPA under the new administration has an opportunity to act quickly to improve the river’s water quality.

Immediately initiate rule making on PFAS: PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances also known as forever chemicals) continue to plague our environment, drinking water and the health of hundreds of millions of Americans. The U.S. EPA should promote water quality criteria for PFAS pursuant to the Clean Water Act and a maximum contaminant level under the Safe Drinking WaterAct. The agency should also treat PFAS as a group of chemicals, under the Toxic Substances Control Act, and require industries to test PFAS for its risk to human health and the environment. 

Strengthen the Lead and Copper Rule: The lead and copper rule, which the EPA released on December 22, makes several improvements to address lead in drinking water. Unfortunately, it still allows for partial lead service line replacements and puts the financial burden of lead service line replacement on households. As a result, the rule will worsen disparities in lead exposure resulting from income and racial inequity. We encourage the Biden administration to strengthen this rule by banning partial lead service line replacements and providing federal funding for low-income residents to replace lead lines. 


Harness America’s Public Lands to Combat Climate Change: The Biden administration should make our public lands and waters part of the climate solution. Launch a major effort to permanently set aside and protect at least 30% of our lands and waters by 2030. Increase wilderness and provide the space for America’s landscapes to rewild, heal, and reach their carbon capturing and storing potential. Issue a moratorium on new fossil fuel leasing on federal lands and waters and develop a plan to reach net zero emissions on them by 2030. Use the Wayne National Forest’s plan revision process to optimize the Wayne as Ohio’s largest terrestrial carbon sink.

Make Access to America’s Outdoors More Equitable: Launch a Nature For All initiative to better ensure all communities have access to America’s majestic public lands including ensuring public transportation has the funding needed to connect underserved communities to parks and outdoor recreation and closing the National Parks maintenance and infrastructure backlog to ensure safe and accessible outdoor experiences.

Reverse Trump Administration’s Unprecedented Assault on Our Public Lands: The Trump administration’s numerous rollbacks of our nation’s environmental laws threaten people, our most precious places, and the democratic involvement of the public’s voice in federal agency decision making. Trump-era efforts to weaken NEPA, the Endangered Species Act, and public lands energy extraction rules must be reversed. The Trump-era assault on some of America’s greatest national treasures—the Tongass, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Bears Ears—must be immediately halted and reversed. Reverse the unprecedented Trump-era increase in logging our national forests. We need our public forests standing strong.


There’s no healthy environment without a healthy democracy. We encourage the Biden Administration to strengthen our democratic processes and institutions and for the 117th Congress to champion the For the People and John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Acts.

For the People Act: Recently, we have seen our core democratic institutions tested—tested by a public health crisis, continued racial injustice, and the incitement of an insurrection on our nation’s capital. Now more than ever, we need to address issues at the core of a well-functioning nation that in turn will result in a more greener and healthier Ohio– that every eligible voter can participate equitably in our democracy, and that the people’s voice, rather than outsized corporate influence, guides our elected officials. For far too long voter suppression and partisan gerrymandering have silenced voices, disproportionately impacting people of color, young people. This legislation would strengthen voting rights, increase transparency and fairness in our campaign finance system, and improve our ethics laws to ensure government accountability. 

John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act: The Voting Rights Act of 1965 put a stop to many of the most egregious voting suppression and disenfranchisement policies put in place to keep African Americans from voting. In 2013, however, the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder gutted key protections in the law, making way for many of these new discriminatory and restrictive voting laws. The John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (H.R. 4/S. 4263) responds to the Shelby decision by renewing the core of the Voting Rights Act and stemming the wave of voter suppression tactics.


Ramp Up Community Engagement: Communities are often left out of the process when polluting facilities move into town. Siting decisions, clean up promises, and even real time impacts are often settled by bureaucrats without consultation from the neighborhood. We propose ramping up the community engagement process at EPA (and specifically giving the Office of Environmental Justice more teeth) to ensure that communities are consulted. We also request that EPA ask for more money from Congress for brownfield redevelopment.


While the challenges that face the incoming Biden and Harris Administration can seem daunting, this country is resilient and ready to meet any challenge with innovation and determination. The values of optimism, perseverance, and kindness that were prominent during the President-elect’s campaign will be more important than ever as this new chapter begins. As in the words of President George Washington, “The harder the conflict, the greater the triumph.” The hard work to reverse the current environmental course of the United States, and the globe, begins today and we will all triumph in the success of ensuring an equitable, safe, and healthy environment for all Americans.