Although I spent January 20 in my apartment, I imagined I could feel a collective sigh of relief across the District of Columbia as Joe Biden took the oath of office and became our nation’s 46th president. It was bittersweet to see the sparse crowd gathered at the Capitol. A day that should have boasted communal celebrations instead featured masked and distanced spectators complying with COVID-19 guidance and fences and National Guard troops reminding us of that two weeks earlier a violent mob invaded the halls of Congress in an attempt to subvert democracy.
Among the many reasons why I’m glad the Trump administration is over is that I know the Biden-Harris administration will listen to science, instead of sidelining the scientists whose work is essential to addressing public health crises.
In his inaugural address, President Biden stated, “We must reject the culture in which facts themselves are manipulated and even manufactured.” He then signed executive orders that started undoing some of the most harmful anti-science actions of the previous administration. The Executive Order on Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis begins with this visionary paragraph:
Our Nation has an abiding commitment to empower our workers and communities; promote and protect our public health and the environment; and conserve our national treasures and monuments, places that secure our national memory. Where the Federal Government has failed to meet that commitment in the past, it must advance environmental justice. In carrying out this charge, the Federal Government must be guided by the best science and be protected by processes that ensure the integrity of Federal decision-making. It is, therefore, the policy of my Administration to listen to the science; to improve public health and protect our environment; to ensure access to clean air and water; to limit exposure to dangerous chemicals and pesticides; to hold polluters accountable, including those who disproportionately harm communities of color and low-income communities; to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; to bolster resilience to the impacts of climate change; to restore and expand our national treasures and monuments; and to prioritize both environmental justice and the creation of the well-paying union jobs necessary to deliver on these goals.
The next section orders an immediate review of agency actions from the past four years for inconsistencies with this policy vision; the heads of agencies must then “as appropriate and consistent with applicable law, consider suspending, revising, or rescinding the agency actions.” The order highlights several regulations for which agency heads “shall consider publishing for notice and comment a proposed rule suspending, revising, or rescinding the agency action.” On that list is the awful EPA rule that uses the guise of transparency to restrict the science the agency can consider in its actions.
The Executive Order on Revocation of Certain Executive Orders Concerning Federal Regulation revokes the misguided Trump executive order that ordered agencies to cut one-third of their federal advisory committees and led to the elimination of committees addressing a range of environmental and public health issues. It also does away with the heinous “2-for-1” executive order that requires any federal agency that issues a new regulation to rescind at least two existing ones.
This isn’t an exhaustive list of science-related elements in the first executive orders, and we expect several more important executive actions in the coming days. For the moment, I’m just relishing the fact that I can visit the Presidential Actions page on Whitehouse.gov and be happy about what’s posted there.