With executive orders, Biden to reverse Trump policies on environment, immigration

President-elect Joe Biden speaks Tuesday in New Castle, Del., before flying to Washington for his inauguration.
President-elect Joe Biden speaks Tuesday in New Castle, Del., before flying to Washington for his inauguration.
(Associated Press)

President-elect Joe Biden will move swiftly to reverse some of President Trump’s most divisive and far-reaching actions — including abandoning the Paris climate agreement and ordering the deportation of Dreamers — by issuing a bundle of executive orders and other directives just after his inauguration Wednesday to reset the nation’s policy direction.

The expansive actions, including 15 executive orders, also will immediately reenter the United States into the World Health Organization, overhaul Trump’s restrictionist immigration policy and cancel his approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that Trump tried to open to drilling will be closed again, and national monuments in the West where he fostered development and resource extraction will once again be given the highest levels of federal protection. The orders will scrap a Trump plan to exclude people who are in the country illegally from being counted in the decennial U.S. census — the administration already had conceded defeat after losses in court — and rescind Trump policies that left marginalized communities more exposed to industrial pollution.


“Tomorrow starts a new day,” said Jeff Zients, Biden’s czar on the COVID-19 response, as advisors unveiled the executive actions to reporters Tuesday night. “A new, different approach.”

Plans that Biden recently outlined for confronting the pandemic — his most pressing task as he moves into the White House — will be reflected in some of the orders he will sign. The orders will require masks and distancing in all federal buildings and on federal lands, in an effort to push state and local leaders to impose their own such mandates nationwide.

Departing from the Trump administration’s haphazard, disjointed approach to combating the virus, which marginalized the federal government’s top scientists and global public health leaders, and relied on states for action, Biden will sign an order aimed at bolstering coordination between the federal government and other parties and expanding the government’s role in supplying vaccines, protective gear and COVID-19 tests.

Reversing Trump’s move to remove the United States from the World Health Organization, which public health leaders widely panned as reckless, Biden will send the nation’s foremost expert on infectious diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, to lead the U.S. delegation and deliver remarks at the organization’s board meeting this week.

Biden “will restore America’s role leading the world through this global crisis,” Zients said.


The new president will also use the orders to try to reclaim America’s mantle as the leader in the fight against climate change. Trump worked relentlessly to roll back the aggressive environmental rules of the Obama era, encourage fossil fuel use and relinquish the progress made in shifting the nation toward a carbon-neutral electricity grid and zero-emission vehicles. Biden’s executive orders will return the nation to that course.

Gina McCarthy, Biden’s national climate advisor, and formerly chief of the Environmental Protection Agency in the Obama administration, said the orders on the environment “will put the United States on an irreversible path to create net zero emissions economy-wide by no later than 2050.”

In tandem with acting to reenter the United States in the Paris accord on climate change, along with nearly 200 other nations, Biden will order all federal agencies to begin rescinding more than 100 Trump administration orders that eased pollution restrictions and relaxed protections of public lands. The return to the 2016 Paris agreement, McCarthy said, “is going to be an important step for the United States to regain and strengthen its leadership” in fighting climate change.

Federal agencies will be directed to start the process of reimplementing the strict vehicle emissions standards that the Obama administration had modeled on California’s pioneering requirements. They will also be ordered to bring back energy-efficiency standards for appliances and buildings that the Trump administration abandoned.

The Department of the Interior will be directed to reestablish protections that Trump had stripped from the Grand Staircase-Escalante, Bears Ears, Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine national monuments, and to implement a moratorium on all oil leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Biden will also revoke the permit Trump approved to build the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline that would move hundreds of thousands of barrels of crude oil daily from Alberta, Canada, to ports on the Gulf of Mexico.

Other actions are aimed at reviving the economy. Although Biden’s authority to act unilaterally in that area is limited — Congress must approve any spending package, for example — his advisors promised that the measures will help tens of millions of Americans.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would be asked to extend through March the moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, and the Department of Education to extend a pause on student loan payments through September.


The area in which Biden can most immediately and dramatically reverse course is immigration policy. The executive orders will revive and fortify the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, shielding from deportation some 700,000 Dreamers who came to the country as children. Trump had aimed to expel them from the country; court rulings temporarily blocked him but left the young adults in limbo.

The crackdown Trump enforced against immigrants in the country illegally will be rolled back, with Biden rescinding directives that his transition team says imposed “harsh and extreme immigration enforcement.”

Construction of the wall Trump promised on the border with Mexico will come to a halt as the new administration reviews the spending. The advisors called it a “wasteful” and potentially illegal diversion of billions of dollars from other government programs. Trump reallocated that money from military accounts after declaring a national emergency when Congress by bipartisan votes refused to approve his full requests to fund the wall. Biden is canceling that declaration.

Biden is also revoking the “Muslim ban,” one of Trump’s first acts as president, which sought to deny visas to residents from primarily Muslim nations. Jake Sullivan, who will be Biden’s national security advisor, said the ban “was nothing less than a stain on our nation. It was rooted in xenophobia and religious animus.”

As Biden aims to ease racial divisions, he will move aggressively to restore and enhance federal initiatives to encourage diversity and equal opportunity that Trump killed.

The effort will be led by Biden’s domestic policy advisor, Susan Rice, who was President Obama’s national security advisor. Government agencies, she said, “will study inequities in agency functions from procurement to rule-making.”