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Environmental Laws & Executive Orders

Under the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there are a number of laws that serve as a foundation for environmental and public health protection. The EPA is a regulatory agency, meaning that the EPA is an independent, governmental body that sets standards for environmental and public health. Congress authorizes the EPA to write regulations necessary to implement environmental laws. This regulatory process is influenced by different laws and executive orders that the EPA administers for the protection of human health and the environment.

Some of the environmental policies and laws passed in the United States over time include policies that we at OC Habitats may deal with directly in our education, habitat monitoring, and programs:

  • Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act (BEACH): This policy allows the EPA to award grants for monitoring and public awareness programs as well as coastal testing.

  • Clean Air Act (CAA): This policy authorizes the EPA to establish National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) and regulates air pollutant emissions, such as petroleum refineries or manufacturing plants that emit the six criteria air pollutants of carbon monoxide, ground-level ozone, lead, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, and sulfur dioxide.

  • Clean Water Act (CWA): This policy establishes regulations for water quality standards and for discharging pollutants into waterways. For example, industrial facilities must obtain permits if their discharges go directly into surface waters.

  • Endangered Species Act (ESA): This policy promotes the conservation of threatened and endangered species and their habitats. This act works with a variety of different agencies in federal, state, and local governments. Examples of agencies include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Services. For example, through permits, registration, and regulations, the Endangered Species Act requires that all federal agencies make sure that any authorized action carried out will not jeopardize the existence of listed species or modify any designated critical habitat.

  • National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA): This policy regulates federal projects to give environmental consideration prior to construction of projects such as airports, buildings, military complexes, highways, parkland purchases, and other proposed federal activities.

As of February 2021, President Biden has signed 32 executive orders, with many of the executive orders committed towards tackling climate change and creating an equitable, clean energy, and sustainable future. When we look at the Biden-Harris Administration’s promise to tackle climate change and creating an equitable, sustainable future, we see immediate executive action through the rejoining of the Paris Agreement and the review of harmful rollbacks of environmental protection standards. Environmental executive orders executed by Biden aim for Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad (EO 14008) and Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science To Tackle the Climate Crisis (EO 13990).


Environmental Executive Order 14008, otherwise known as “Tackling the Climate Crises at Home and Abroad,” and Executive Order 13990, known as “Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis,” directs administration to center the climate crisis in foreign policy and national security considerations, take a “whole-of-government” approach to the climate crisis, lead by example, and much more.

These two executive orders aim for the U.S. and the world to meet the demands of the climate crisis while moving towards a clean energy revolution in businesses for a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035. Domestically, executive order 14008 establishes the White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy, which will be led by a national climate advisor and the National Climate force, consisting of various cabinet and government agency members. This executive order also aims to protect “30 percent of U.S. land and coastal seas by 2030” (National Geographic, 2021). As of 2020, only 289 million acres of the U.S. are protected for biodiversity. Known as the “30 by 30,” this executive order requires 440 million more acres for conservation as only 12 percent of the U.S. is protected. The objectives of the 2030 goal are to conserve and protect species and ecosystems that are threatened by development and to restore degraded habitats. Biden pledges to protect biodiversity, slow extinction rates, and help leverage natural climate solutions.

Executive order 13990 focuses more on implementing various environmental actions, such as the revoking of the permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline, temporarily prohibiting drilling in the arctic refuge, and following scientific means to advance public health and the environment. The administration aims to revitalize the U.S. energy sector, conserve natural resources, bring well-paying union jobs, and deliver environmental justice to vulnerable communities.

President Biden signing an executive order. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Through environmental executive orders and his Presidential Memorandum on scientific integrity, President Biden sends a clear message that the Biden-Harris Administration will protect scientists’ ability to research and speak freely from political interference so that scientists can provide valuable information and insights to our nation. This will also reestablish scientific advisory committees and reestablish the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. For more detail about the Biden-Harris administration and its steps to fighting climate change, check out OCH’s own Kim Yumul’s Build Back Better article!

Government plans do not exclude individual participation, we can do our part and commit to climate change at home. Actions that may seem small, such as recycling, educating, and reducing use, will add over time. Our individual actions will collectively come together and make a large difference. You can take the first steps in becoming an environmental advocate and committing to climate change through daily actions as well as supporting environmental organizations, such as OC Habitats.

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