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Anna McGinn is a policy manager at the Environmental and Energy Study Institute and a member of the Maine chapter of the national Scholars Strategy Network, which brings together scholars across the country to address public challenges and their policy implications. Members’ columns appear in the Bangor Daily News every other week. EESI is a nonpartisan organization and does not endorse political candidates.
In fact, all policies can be climate policies. Or at least they have the potential to be. And that’s really good news for Mainers, for communities around the United States, for the economy and for policymakers.
If policies — from heath to education to housing — take climate change into consideration from the start, otherwise unanticipated consequences can be avoided and, instead, benefits can emerge. This ”whole-of-government approach to combating the climate crisis” is foundational to the Biden-Harris administration’s strategy.
This broader conceptualization of how policies and programs can address many issues at one time is a big opportunity. Ideas abound on how to recover from the pandemic, bolster communities, reckon with social inequities and address the climate crisis — all at the same time. Although much of the hard work remains to be done to move these ideas into policy and practice, the first 100 days of the Biden-Harris Administration and the 117th Congress are off to a promising start.
Let me give you an example. One week into the new administration, the president signed a wide-ranging executive order that activated a full federal response to climate change that will deliver benefits from sea to shining sea. This executive order is not just about energy, but about much, much more.
One element of this response, for example, calls on the secretary of agriculture to work with farmers to figure out how federal programs can help support climate-smart agricultural practices. Since these practices provide a critical service — reducing emissions and holding carbon in the soil — farmers could be compensated for this service, creating new sources of income and jobs in places like Maine.
We see climate change considerations in other federal actions as well. The American Rescue Plan — the one with the $1,400 checks — also included over $30 billion for public transit agencies, a key low-carbon transportation option. The White House established and convened the inaugural White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, so for the first time communities that have experienced decades of disinvestment and public health crises as a result of environmental degradation will be central to generating equitable climate solutions at the presidential level.
The American Jobs Plan is about creating millions of jobs and investing in infrastructure, but the plan is also infused with commitments to incorporate climate considerations across the entire economy.
We are in a new era of climate policy. One focused on solutions, jobs, and justice. And one justifying a new level of ambition and investment. The Biden-Harris Administration has embraced the idea that all policies can be climate policies, an important move that is set to benefit communities across Maine.