“Congressional inaction” has become a ubiquitous phrase amongst political pundits and commentators. Despite a Democratic president and Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, it is still exceedingly difficult to pass major legislative initiatives. Congressional inaction is particularly acute when it comes to climate change; Democrats and Republicans can barely agree on common terminology, let alone policy solutions. With this vast schism in agreement, the chances of passing meaningful legislation are remote. Thus,
presidents who seek action on divisive issues, like climate policy, have turned to an alternate method of action: the executive order (EO). EOs, however, are vulnerable to politics. President Barack Obama issued an EO to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants, only for President Donald Trump to revoke it. President Joe Biden then reinstated Obama’s order, and signed his own EO as well. Despite EOs’ vulnerabilities, they can have enduring and important legacies. This In Brief will argue that EOs are an important tool for addressing climate change. To do so, this brief will provide background on EOs, followed by the specifics of Biden’s EO 14008. It will then contextualize EO 14008 within the broader field of EOs and demonstrate when and under what conditions EOs succeed and fail. Finally, this brief will make a two-part argument. First, EOs are an important legal tool to fight climate change because they can expeditiously refocus agency priorities based on new intelligence reports. Second, Biden’s targeting of the military, specifically, enhances the efficacy of climate-change related EOs.