During his first weeks in office, President Joe Biden reversed dozens of environmental policies from former President Donald Trump and vowed to end many more. Biden has also issued executive orders tackling clean energy and conservation as well as centering climate considerations in domestic and foreign policy.
The Michigan Daily spoke to students at the University of Michigan to understand how they are reacting to the new administration’s climate policies. While many said they believed the administration is heading in the right direction, they wanted to see more concrete action taken towards carbon neutrality and solving environmental justice issues.
The Climate Action Movement is a coalition of students, staff, faculty and community members whose aim is to push the University to enact sustainable policies. In past years, CAM has put pressure on the University to divest from fossil fuel industries and commit to achieving carbon neutrality on campus.
LSA junior and CAM member Luke Dillingham said he believes many of Biden’s executive orders move the country in the right direction, but he wants to see them go further.
“I was happy when (Biden) used an executive order to revoke the rights for the Keystone XL pipeline, but there are still similar issues with other such pipelines, namely Enbridge’s Line 3 and also Line 5,” Dillingham said. “There have been a whole bunch of issues in Michigan with Enbridge and disagreements with Whitmer about that. I would like to see more of the same for a lot of these areas.”
Though CAM generally works on the University level, Dillingham said the group hopes the Biden administration supports Green New Deal policies and issues more orders to revoke pipeline rights.
“Supporting policy initiatives like the Green New Deal and addressing some of the environmental justice issues for pipelines like Enbridge’s Line 3 are some of the things that would be generally important to (CAM),” Dillingham said.
However, Engineering sophomore Brendan Nell, said he is interested in the issue and disagrees with Biden’s actions regarding the pipeline. He said he thinks the administration’s choice to roll back fracking and revoke the Keystone XL pipeline permit will hurt the environment more than help it, citing the debate about the environmental impacts of using trains to transport oil instead.
“It’s certainly true that you protect the environment in the sense that you’re not having to do a bunch of construction through natural areas, but in terms of carbon emissions, which is our biggest concern, now instead of the oil being transported through a pipeline, it’s just going to have to be transported using trains,” Nell said. “Whereas the pipeline would have carbon emissions, there’s going to be a lot more when you’re using trains to transport it.”
Nell said he was concerned that these executive orders would also cost well-paying jobs and increase long-term carbon emissions.
“There’s a bit of a lie told when they say that the workers who are working on the pipeline can just go find jobs in the renewable energy industry, and that’s just not true,” Nell said. “There’s not enough demand for work there. The question is really, what do we care about more?”
Nell also said he is wary of increased regulations because of their potential to backfire and harm the environment and economy, with business shifting to other countries.
“There’s this idea that cutting fracking will somehow help the environment,” Nell said. “But for oil, that demand will either be met by us or it will be met by other countries.”
The Sunrise Movement’s Ann Arbor chapter, an organization dedicated to centering climate policy in politics, said they felt cautiously optimistic about the impact of the Biden administration’s climate-related plans.
LSA junior Noah Nichols, spokesperson for Sunrise, said the group’s strategy since Trump left office has shifted from electing progressive politicians to influencing policy.
“Under Trump, (I didn’t think we would) pass that much stuff on climate change and I (didn’t) think that the benefits or the resulting impact of the legislation that we do pass is going to those frontline communities, so we’re definitely more optimistic now,” Nichols said. “Now the focus has definitely shifted away from elections toward pressuring elected officials to support bold climate action.”
Nichols also said that because most of Biden’s executive orders thus far have been declaring intentions for action rather than directly taking action, the group will continue pushing elected officials to fulfill campaign promises. In particular, Nichols said he was looking forward to the implementation of Biden’s Civilian Climate Corps, an initiative to train people for environmentally friendly careers that was inspired by President Franklin Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps during the New Deal era.
“The flight of manufacturing jobs away from Michigan over these past couple of years has left our communities devastated,” Nichols said. “So the prospect of the (Civilian Climate Corps) bringing green jobs to the state of Michigan is really exciting and we’re really hopeful about it. We hope that we can push Biden further to the left and further to doing this bold action.”
The Biden campaign also pledged to address water crises — like pollution and the presence of PFAS in drinking supplies — around the country. As part of his first slate of executive orders, Biden ordered an “immediate review” of Trump-era rollbacks on water protections.
Nursing junior Lindsay Miles, cofounder of Flint Justice Partnership, an organization dedicated to teaching students about the Flint Water Crisis, said she is not looking for Biden to enact one specific policy to address various water crises. Instead, Miles said she hoped Biden’s promises on environmental justice would consider the long term effects of climate change.
“The water crisis has existed through multiple administrations, and at this point (…) we’re just hoping that there will be an impact that could really last beyond an administration and something that would be a real change for the community,” Miles said. “(Flint has) struggled for endless years now, and there hasn’t really been a real change or anything that has been implemented that any political organization has really followed through (on).”
Daily Staff Reporter Julia Rubin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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