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Biden directs billions in federal spending power to climate change

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Biden directs billions in federal spending power to climate change


President Joe Biden continues to make good on his campaign pledge to accelerate progress on climate change, rapidly working down the list of what he can accomplish on his own in his early days in office.

On Wednesday, January 27, he will sign a second set of executive orders and memorandums on climate change that promise to bring about major changes in US energy policies and priorities: directing federal agencies to purchase US-made, zero-emissions vehicles and carbon-free electricity, halting nearly all new oil and gas leases on public lands, and eliminating most fossil-fuel subsidies.

Biden also placed climate change at the center of national security planning, requiring federal agencies to evaluate how increasingly severe heat waves, fires, floods, and famines could inflame global conflicts. The actions will also begin the process of creating bolder emissions reductions targets for the US under the Paris climate agreement.

The latest directives follow Biden’s climate actions on his first day in office, which included kick-starting the process of rejoining the Paris agreement and establishing new regulations on methane emissions, vehicle fuel economy standards, and much more.

A big market boost

The orders will provide a major boost to the domestic market for renewables like wind, solar and geothermal plants, as well as electric or hydrogen vehicles. They will direct billions of federals dollars to these industries while creating regulatory certainty that will make it easier to finance new projects and factories, says Josh Freed, who leads the climate and energy program at Third Way, a center-left think tank in Washington, DC.

The vehicle order, for instance, could eventually add up to around 650,000 government cars, trucks, and buses, potentially increasing the size of the domestic market by nearly 40%. Only an estimated 1.6 million plug-in electric vehicles had been sold in the US as of late last year, and fewer than 10,000 hydrogen vehicles since 2012, according to InsideEVs.

Agencies, however, will probably not replace vehicles until they reach the end of their useful lives, so the full turnover will surely take years.

The full text of the executive order states that the federal government will use all of its purchasing authority to achieve a carbon-free electricity sector by 2035, reiterating a key goal of Biden’s since the campaign.

“Transforming the American electric sector to produce power without carbon pollution will be a tremendous spur to job creation and economic competitiveness in the 21st century, not to mention the benefits to our health and our environment,” Biden said during a press conference.

But it’s not yet clear how the order will work or what it will achieve in the next few years, including whether it will require agencies to obtain a certain percentage or all of their electricity through low-carbon sources like wind, solar and nuclear power. It’s also not immediately apparent how government agencies will reach those goals given limited control over the mix of sources generating electricity on local grids.

Erin Sikorsky, deputy director of the Center for Climate and Security in Washington, DC, applauded the order’s focus on national security.

Without incorporating detailed assessments of increasingly volatile climate conditions, she says, the US won’t recognize the potential for regional conflicts that can stem from things like prolonged droughts; can’t properly prepare and equip its overseas troops and bases; and won’t grasp how power dynamics are likely to shift among nations and non-state actors. For instance, famines could boost recruitment among terrorist groups, and warming conditions could increase the economic output and regional influence of countries like Russia.

Elevating environmental justice

The new executive orders included numerous additional directives and announcements. Among them:

  • Biden will host a climate summit with other world leaders on April 22, Earth Day, in a clear bid to reset the nation’s climate diplomacy efforts.
  • He also directed agencies to take steps to address the outsize impact of environmental and climate threats on disadvantaged communities, and to ensure that they receive “40% of the benefits” from any related federal investments.
  • The president also directed the secretary of agriculture to begin exploring ways of encouraging farming practices that can reduce emissions and store more carbon in soil. In addition, he called for the creation of a Civilian Climate Corps Initiative to put Americans to work planting trees and otherwise restoring public lands and waters.
  • A new memorandum elevates the role of science and expertise in federal policymaking, directing agencies to “make evidence-based decisions guided by the best available science and data.”
  • Biden also set up or reestablished numerous climate and science advisory groups, including the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Interagency Council and a National Climate Task Force that will pull leaders from 21 agencies and departments.

The limits of executive orders

At this stage, Biden is effectively checking off the things he can accomplish on climate change through executive orders rather than pushing new laws through Congress.

But there are limits on how much he can achieve through this approach. Executive orders are effectively instructions on how federal agencies should operate, but they can’t reverse existing laws or create new powers for the presidency. Presidents also generally can’t spend money that Congress hasn’t already authorized, although they can direct how it’s spent, as Biden seems to be doing with clean electricity and vehicles.

The precise boundaries of what can and can’t be achieved through executive orders is a subject of heated debate and frequent court challenges. The other downside is that they can be unilaterally overturned from one administration to the next, as Trump did with many of President Barack Obama’s orders and Biden is now doing with Trump’s.

Accelerating the shift to zero-emissions technologies enough to prevent 2 ˚C of warming, the stated goal of the Paris agreement, will clearly require legislation. The real test for Biden’s climate agenda will be whether he can get that done with only slim Democratic control of the Senate.



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The US Supreme Court just gutted the EPA’s power to regulate emissions

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The US Supreme Court just gutted the EPA’s power to regulate emissions


What was the ruling?

The decision states that the EPA’s actions in a 2015 rule, which included caps on emissions from power plants, overstepped the agency’s authority.

“Capping carbon dioxide emissions at a level that will force a nationwide transition away from the use of coal to generate electricity may be a sensible ‘solution to the crisis of the day,’” the decision reads. “But it is not plausible that Congress gave EPA the authority to adopt on its own such a regulatory scheme.”

Only Congress has the power to make “a decision of such magnitude and consequence,” it continues. 

This decision is likely to have “broad implications,” says Deborah Sivas, an environmental law professor at Stanford University. The court is not only constraining what the EPA can do on climate policy going forward, she adds; this opinion “seems to be a major blow for agency deference,” meaning that other agencies could face limitations in the future as well.

The ruling, which is the latest in a string of bombshell cases from the court, fell largely along ideological lines. Chief Justice John Roberts authored the majority opinion, and he was joined by his fellow conservatives: Justices Samuel Alito, Amy Coney Barrett, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Clarence Thomas. Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

What is the decision all about?

The main question in the case was how much power the EPA should have to regulate carbon emissions and what it should be allowed to do to accomplish that job. That question was occcasioned by a 2015 EPA rule called the Clean Power Plan.

The Clean Power Plan targeted greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants, requiring each state to make a plan to cut emissions and submit it to the federal government.

Several states and private groups immediately challenged the Clean Power Plan when it was released, calling it an overreach on the part of the agency, and the Supreme Court put it on hold in 2016. After a repeal of the plan during Donald Trump’s presidency and some legal back-and-forth, a Washington, DC, district court ruled in January 2021 that the Clean Power Plan did fall within the EPA’s authority.

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How to track your period safely post-Roe

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How to track your period safely post-Roe


3. After you delete your app, ask the app provider to delete your data. Just because you removed the app from your phone does not mean the company has gotten rid of your records. In fact, California is the only state where they are legally required to delete your data. Still, many companies are willing to delete it upon request. Here’s a helpful guide from the Washington Post that walks you through how you can do this.

Here’s how to safely track your period without an app.

1. Use a spreadsheet. It’s relatively easy to re-create the functions of a period tracker in a spreadsheet by listing out the dates of your past periods and figuring out the average length of time from the first day of one to the first day of the next. You can turn to one of the many templates already available online, like the period tracker created by Aufrichtig and the Menstrual Cycle Calendar and Period Tracker created by Laura Cutler. If you enjoy the science-y aspect of period apps, templates offer the ability to send yourself reminders about upcoming periods, record symptoms, and track blood flow.

2. Use a digital calendar. If spreadsheets make you dizzy and your entire life is on a digital calendar already, try making your period a recurring event, suggests Emory University student Alexa Mohsenzadeh, who made a TikTok video demonstrating the process

Mohsenzadeh says that she doesn’t miss apps. “I can tailor this to my needs and add notes about how I’m feeling and see if it’s correlated to my period,” she says. “You just have to input it once.” 

3. Go analog and use a notebook or paper planner. We’re a technology publication, but the fact is that the safest way to keep your menstrual data from being accessible to others is to take it offline. You can invest in a paper planner or just use a notebook to keep track of your period and how you’re feeling. 

If that sounds like too much work, and you’re looking for a simple, no-nonsense template, try the free, printable Menstrual Cycle Diary available from the University of British Columbia’s Centre for Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation Research.

4. If your state is unlikely to ban abortion, you might still be able to safely use a period-tracking app. The crucial thing will be to choose one that has clear privacy settings and has publicly promised not to share user data with authorities. Quintin says Clue is a good option because it’s beholden to EU privacy laws and has gone on the record with its promise not to share information with authorities. 

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Composable enterprise spurs innovation

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Composable enterprise spurs innovation


Overall, 74% of companies accelerated plans to move to the cloud by more than a year, jettisoning legacy technologies and operating models to embrace data and applications, according to business analysis firm ZK Research.

A key part of that transformation relied on using applications, usually in the cloud, that integrated apps and data with low-code functionality to create more efficient workflows, more quickly than ever. Low-code is a software development approach for building processes and functionality with little or no code, which allows non-software developers to create applications.

Companies that structure daily workflows around these so-called “composable applications”—often called composable enterprises—have a much tighter relationship between technology and business units and can quickly assemble new applications and services at a fraction of the historical cost.

Composable applications provide a way to build on or add to applications in an easy way—think of building blocks: the work has already been done and additional functionality can be added to the foundational ability.

That flexibility is necessary for the variability of the current workplace and economy, says Zeus Kerravala, founder and principal analyst at ZK Research. “We’re moving to an era where in any given moment, you could have everyone in the office, no one in the office, or every reasonable combination in between,” Kerravala says. “You could have all your shoppers online, only a few, or—depending on your industry—no shoppers online and every possible combination between. The pandemic has created these dramatic shifts in the way we learn, the way we live, and the way we work, based on forces that are outside of anyone’s control.”

When it comes to cloud infrastructure, companies have often pursued half measures—adopting it in such a way as to reinforce old business models, creating private clouds that mimic their on-premises infrastructure. But composability gives enterprises the ability to adapt to changes in operations and in their markets by creating new applications to support needed workflows without hiring additional or outside software developers to implement the changes.

Composable cloud services further liberate companies from relying on running their own software instances solely to customize the code to their needs. Composable applications bring together cloud, customization, integration, and workflow management, allowing companies to be flexible and innovate quickly.

When businesses suffered pandemic disruptions to critical business functions—such as call centers, IT support, and medical administration—composable applications allowed firms to adapt and continue. In one case, a company needed to extend its call-center system, which was hosted in a controlled environment, to allow access to employees through web browsers running on an Amazon virtual machine, says David Lee, vice president of products at RingCentral, an enterprise communications platform that has focused on composability. “They had to make these changes work overnight at employees’ homes, and that was a great challenge for a lot of organizations,” Lee says. “Companies well-adapted to potential change actually made these transitions very easy by composing new applications and workflows.”

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