No shortage exists for actions political activists and others would like to see Joe Biden take on his first day as president in January. From protecting voting rights to launching prosecutions of wrongdoers in the Trump regime, from dealing with police violence to reinstating environmental regulations Trump rolled back, a bunch of people and groups have lists long enough to jam-pack not only Day One of the new administration but well past its first 100 days. Sadly, all too many of these items are simply repair and restoration work needed to address the wreckage of the past four years.
Quite a number of these matters can be accomplished simply by executive orders, although that presents the risk, without Congress to back them up, that a future administration could re-reverse these decisions with new executive orders.
A key arena is the environment. Eco writer Michael Grunwald notes some possible environmental moves that Biden could make right away before the echo of the oath of office has even faded away:
The US rejoins Paris. The Keystone pipeline dies. So do the Trump plans to log the Tongass Forest and drill in the Arctic refuge. Methane rules probably get reinstated fast. Other Trump eco-regulatory stuff a bit harder to undo but undoable. What else happens right away?
— Michael Grunwald (@MikeGrunwald) November 6, 2020
Last December, a loose coalition of 16 environmental groups generated the #ClimatePresident Action Plan, 10 items that it said could be achieved by a new president without any need for congressional action. Scores of other groups have endorsed the plan. Among the proposals: “1. Declare a national climate emergency under the National Emergencies Act […] 8. Advance Climate Justice: Direct federal agencies to assess and mitigate environmental harms to disproportionately impacted Indigenous Peoples, People and Communities of Color, and low-wealth communities. 9. Make polluters pay: Investigate and prosecute fossil fuel polluters for the damages they have caused. Commit to veto all legislation that grants legal immunity for polluters, undermines existing environmental laws, or advances false solutions.”
The group includes a 34-page dissection of the legal authority under which the new president could take these actions.
Then there are Trump’s more than 100 rule rollbacks requiring re-regulation. Some of those could also be handled by executive order, but others will require going through the lengthy rule-making process.
“Day One” has a pleasant ring to it. But some issues won’t be so quickly dealt with. Take, for instance, Bears Ears National Monument in southeast Utah. Shortly before he left office, President Barack Obama established the 1.35 million-acre monument under the Antiquities Act of 1906, fulfilling the decades-old dreams of American Indians and environmental advocates to gain government protection for the natural beauty of this red-rock land, the plants and creatures living on it, tens of thousands of Native artifacts and petroglyphs dating back millennia, and sites sacred to the five tribes who worked in coalition with environmental organizations and politicians to make Bears Ears a reality.
Intent on smashing anything Obama did, a year later Trump, in December 2017, shrank Bears Ears by 85% and cut the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument established by President Bill Clinton by almost half. Three lawsuits against the move were immediately filed by tribal, conservation, and paleontology groups to challenge the constitutionality of Trump’s action. With that litigation still working its way through the courts, in February 2020 the Trump regime implemented management plans that opened these lands previously off-limits to energy development to mining and drilling.
Biden could on Day One in office reestablish the original boundaries of both monuments or, in the case of Bears Ears, expand the boundaries to the 1.9 million acres that the Intertribal Coalition had asked to be included when the monument was designated. Last month, the Biden campaign said that once in office, he would take “immediate steps to reverse the Trump administration’s assaults on America’s natural treasures, including reversing Trump’s attacks on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Bears Ears, and Grand Staircase-Escalante.” The pledge is included in a “Biden-Harris Plan for Tribal Nations.”
Woody Lee, executive director of the Utah Diné Bikéyah, which fought for getting Bears Ears made into a monument, told Jennifer Yachnin at E&E News this week, “If he does it on his first day, that would be totally awesome. If he does it in the first 100 days, that would be great as well.”
But the details about how Biden should go about reversing Trump’s cuts are a matter of concern for many advocates. One of those is University of Colorado Law School professor Mark Squillace. Simply restoring the boundaries before Trump got his mitts on them certainly has appeal. But Squillace said doing this would suggest that Trump’s decision to shrink the site had been valid. “I think it would be a mistake to simply issue new proclamations,” said Squillace, who filed an amicus brief in one of the lawsuits challenging Trump as not having the authority under the Antiquities Act to shrink existing monuments, something he says only Congress can do.
Here’s Yachnin again:
“We do need to resolve this question at some point to whether Trump had the authority to change the boundaries the way he did,” Squillace said, noting that without an opinion, monuments could be subject to seeing their boundaries expand and contract whenever party control of the White House switches.[…]
“We are eager to have the protections restored,” said Steve Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.
“At the end of the day, what’s our expectation in Utah? As my Republican friends like to say, ‘Elections have consequences,’ and we absolutely expect that President Biden will restore these national monuments,” he added.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.