with Alexandra Ellerbeck

Newly inaugurated President Biden spent much of his first day in office jump-starting his agenda for addressing climate change — signing orders, staffing up departments and laying plans for the days ahead. 

The new administration is trying to do a lot quickly, aiming to make up for lost time under then-President Donald Trump to cut emissions and forestall the dangerous warming of the planet.

Biden outlined the stakes in his first speech as president, saying a “cry for survival comes from planet itself, a cry that can’t be any more desperate or any more clear.” He said fighting “the battle to save our planet by getting the climate under control" is one of his top priorities.

But his agenda is already facing political hurdles both at home and abroad even as the world faces a ticking clock, with U.N. scientists saying nations have just a decade to get climate change under control.

President Biden didn't dwell on global warming during his inaugural address — but went to work right afterward. 

Biden's biggest move, just hours after being sworn in, was officially rejoining the Paris climate accord, an international agreement designed to keep global warming under 2 degrees Celsius.

With Biden's signature, the United States will in 30 days officially rejoin the agreement set up under Biden's old boss, Barack Obama. Trump formally withdrew the country from the accord in November 2020.

Several world leaders seemed relieved with Biden's U-turn on climate.

French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson were pleased to see the United States reengaging with the rest of the world on the environment. 

“Some leaders and officials have reached out to embrace the incoming Biden administration, offering congratulations and speaking of their hopes for cooperation, especially on issues that fell by the wayside under Trump, such as climate change. Most took a somewhat reserved tone, but a few, including some U.S. rivals, were more vociferous,” The Post’s Adam Taylor reports, citing the example of China’s state news agency Xinhua which tweeted, “Good riddance, Donald Trump!”

Only Canada did not seem so enamored with Biden’s Day 1 environmental agenda. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau congratulated the new administration on the day of Biden's inauguration. 

But the day before, he levied harsh criticism of Biden's decision to nix the Keystone XL pipeline, which Trudeau supports. Biden followed through with that plan, revoking a key permit for the project, which would have brought crude from Alberta to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries. 

White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Jan. 20 said President Biden’s first foreign leader call will be to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. (The Washington Post)

Biden's first call with as foreign leader, scheduled for Friday, is with Trudeau. “I expect they will certainly discuss the important relationship with Canada, as well as his decision on the Keystone pipeline," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in her first press briefing.

Republicans in Congress also voiced displeasure at both canceling the pipeline and reentering the Paris accord. 

They argued the international agreement penalizes the United States while giving a pass to China and other developing countries when it comes to cutting emissions.

“A return to the Paris climate agreement will raise Americans’ energy costs and won’t solve climate change,” said John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who is set to be the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

And Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) joined seven of his Senate Republican colleagues to put forward legislation seeking to reauthorize the pipeline, which crosses the U.S.-Canada border in his state. 

“It’s only day one, and with the stroke of a pen, Biden has already taken steps to kill American energy projects like the Keystone XL Pipeline which is critical to energy producing states like Montana,” Daines said in a statement.

Outside the White House, departments are beginning to staff up and get to work unwinding Trump's legacy.

Biden ordered agencies to review a wide swath of Trump's environmental policies, seeking to rewrite or overturn scores of decisions on nature protections in Utah and Alaska, energy conservation for home appliances, endangered species, car pollution, drinking water, toxic chemicals and transporting liquefied natural gas by rail. 

The Interior Department announced a series of hires shortly signaling it will move to halt oil and gas leasing on federal lands and waters.

The department brought on Paniz Rezaeerod, who previously worked for Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-S.C.) on legislation to ban offshore drilling, as its new deputy director of congressional affairs.

And Marissa Knodel, who once managed a campaign for Friends of the Earth to stop new federal fossil-fuel development, is joining the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management as an adviser.

One of Biden's biggest climate promise was to ban new drilling on public lands — something that faces significant legal and political challenges and is much easier to say than to do, experts say.

On Wednesday, Biden moved forward with a temporary moratorium on oil and natural gas leasing activities in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the move in the pristine wilderness that Democrats opposed. 

When asked about ending drilling elsewhere, Psaki told reporters the “leases will be reviewed by our team.”

What's next? Move over Infrastructure Week and say hello to “Climate Day.”

The Biden administration is gearing to brand Jan. 27 as “Climate Day,” according to a document obtained by our colleagues Juliet Eilperin, Steven Mufson and Brady Dennis

The actions include signing an executive order elevating climate change to a national security priority, reestablishing the Presidential Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and directing “science and evidence based decision-making” in federal agencies. 

And several of the deputies who will carry out that agenda will have Senate  confirmation hearings in coming weeks, too.

Biden's nominee to be Environmental Protection Agency administrator, North Carolina regulator Michael S. Regan, will need to be confirmed by the Senate, as do Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) and former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm (D), picked to run the Interior and Energy departments, respectively. Hearing schedules have yet to be set.

Power plays

Biden names acting department heads as his environmental Cabinet picks await confirmation 
  • David Huizenga will be acting head of the Energy Department. He is a career employee who most recently served as the associate principal deputy administrator at the National Nuclear Security Administration. He previously led the department’s environmental remediation efforts.
  • Meanwhile, career employees Jane Nishida and Scott de la Vega will oversee the Environmental Protection Agency and Interior Department, respectively, per E&E News.

So far, the confirmation process for Biden’s Cabinet is running behind schedule compared to previous transitions, and impeachment proceedings against Trump could delay it even further. Most presidents have had their energy secretary in place within a week of inauguration. 

Out with the Trump and in with the Biden.

The last week saw the Trump administration push through a slew of new rules and environmental rollbacks, and the final days and hours of Trump's tenure were no different.

  • Interior Secretary David Bernhardt used one of his last official acts in the Trump administration to rescind an order directing the department to protect wilderness areas. He also signed an order diverting money from a grant program to help build new parks in urban areas, the Hill reports.
  • The EPA also made some last-minute moves, launching a formal process on Tuesday to regulate two chemicals found in drinking water. The chemicals are part of the PFAS family and are known as “forever chemicals” for their tendency to persist in the environment. Notably absent from the agency's new regulation, however, was a commitment to designate the chemicals “hazardous” under the Superfund law, which would force the military to clean up contamination at hundreds of current and former bases, MLive reports.
  • Many of Trump’s last-minute rollbacks face legal challenges, which could help Biden reverse them. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) sued the Trump administration nine times on Tuesday to combat Trump’s flurry of last-minute environmental rollbacks. Becerra, who is Biden’s nominee to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, has taken the Trump administration to court 122 times in four years. The latest suits aim to block rules changes easing protections for migratory birds, relaxing rules on toxic air pollutions, exempting some appliances from energy efficiency standards, and loosening regulations on greenhouse gas emissions form the oil and gas industry, the Associated Press reports.
  • Trump passed on granting a pardon to Joseph Maldonado-Passage, also known as Joe Exotic. The larger-than-life Oklahoma big cat zoo owner-turned- felon who was featured in Netflix’s hit documentary “Tiger King” was so confident in a pardon that his team had arranged a celebratory limousine, our colleague Maura Judkis reports. Still, Trump issued pardons for others who ran afoul of animal welfare and wildlife protection laws, including Robert Bowker, who carries a record for trafficking 22 snakes to the Miami Serpentarium, for which he was offered 22 alligators, according to E&E News reports.

Extra mileage

Overheated grizzlies enjoy a cold bath, especially if they are pregnant.

A new study published in Functional Ecology finds that Yellowstone;s grizzlies may bathe to avoid overheating. The researchers estimated that a cool bath could increase the number of hours that a female lactating bear could be active by up to 60 percent, the Spokesman Review reports. Bears are well adapted to cooler temperatures, but have trouble getting rid of excess heat, a fact that could become all the more challenging amid global warming. 

“The story isn’t so much that heat is hard on lactating bears and it’s only going to get harder as it warms up,” Ryan Long, a professor of wildlife sciences at the University of Idaho and author on the paper, told the Spokesman Review. “Those two things are true, but the real punchline is they’ve figured out a way to overcome that.”