Remarks on Signing an Executive Order on Strengthening the Nation's Forests, Communities, and Local Economies in Seattle, Washington
The President. Hello, everybody. My name is Joe Biden. I work for Patty Murray. Been doing it for a long time.
I can't think of a better place to celebrate Earth Day—this magnificent park. I've only been here once before. I came to speak years ago, and, on my own, I came up here to take a look. And it's really quite beautiful.
Governor Inslee, who is known where I'm from as the "Environmental Governor," and Mayor Harley [Harrell],* Senator Murray, Senator Maria Cantwell, and all—I mean, you have—you've got everybody here. You've got Representatives Smith, Larsen, DelBene, Schrier. And it's an honor to be here in this beautiful park with you all.
You know, Edward Abbey, the writer who once worked as a Park Ranger—[laughter]—I didn't know he had been a Park Ranger, to tell you the truth—wrote the following: "Every man, every woman, carries in heart and mind [an] image of [an] ideal place, the right place, the one true home, known or unknown, actual or visionary." For many Seattle families, I think we're in that place right now, here in this park and places like this. There are not that many like this, unfortunately.
And all around this country, there used to be a hell of a lot more forests like this. But we're doing everything we can. Everybody behind me and all of you want desperately to protect what we have and increase what we have. You know, our natural wonders are, you know, inspired—they're a reflection that inspires us to take action.
You know, my mother had an expression—and I apologize to my colleagues, they've heard me do two things my whole career: quote my mother and father and quote Irish poets. [Laughter] But I'm not going to quote any Irish poets today, okay? But you know, she'd say, "Out of everything difficult, something good will come if you look hard enough for it."
And I think that we're in one of those moments in world history and in American history where we've reached the point that the crisis on the environment has become so obvious, with the notable exception of the former President, that we really have an opportunity to do things we couldn't have done 2, 5, 10 years ago.
And I want to talk about that today with leaders who understand that to their core, the folks standing behind me. I wish you didn't have to stand. Don't you guys have any chairs? Or—[laughter].
Audience member. We're good.
The President. I'm not used to them standing for me, you know. Anyway.
But here's the deal: As I said, Governor Inslee is the climate Governor, and I've gone to him throughout asking him for advice and counsel. And thanks for welcoming me back to Washington State, Gov. And to Mayor—Mayor Harrell, the passport to the city is very much appreciated. I hope I don't do anything to have it revoked. [Laughter]
And, Congressman Smith, thank you for your commitment to the environment, including helping our Armed Forces transition to clean energy technologies.
One of the things I found out as the President of the United States: I get to spend a lot of that money. [Laughter] I get to decide where—no, I'm not joking. And we're going to completely—but before—we're—I'm going to start the process where every vehicle in the United States military—every vehicle is going to be climate friendly. Every vehicle. We're going to have—[applause]. No, I mean it. We're spending billions of dollars to do it.
And it's going to matter. You know, it matters. You know, in my view, this crisis, as I said, is a genuine opportunity, an opportunity to do things we wanted to do, and only now it's become so apparent.
On this day, 52 years ago, millions of Americans of every age and background rallied together on Earth Day. A guy I worked with as a young Senator back in those days was a guy named Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin. And the guy who helped organize Earth Day was a guy who was from Delaware and worked for me as well, and—Mike McCabe.
And you know, it was—they had a vision, a vision for a healthier and more prosperous America. And over time, they delivered. They delivered. Cleaner water. Proof that a sustainable environment can mean a stronger economy. You know, I—and one of the things I'm proudest of in our administration: Before I went into detail with my, quote, "Green Agenda," I got all the unions together. Literally, got all the unions. It's regularly said, the unions view it as against their interests.
And starting with the IBEW, Electrical Workers, because they endorsed it. And every union has stepped up because they figured it out. Their jobs—they're the ones who can help us transition in ways like never before. It's not going to cost them jobs; it's going to increase jobs. The IBEW is going to be building 50,000 [500,000]* electric stations—electric charging stations all across America, for example.
And so, look, change continues today, and the new generation of Americans are helping us lead the way against the threat of climate change. You know, every time I get a little down—I don't know about my colleagues; I suspect they're the same—I just turn on a television or take a look at all the young people. This young generation is not going to put up with the—all that stuff. No, they're not. I mean, they are really, really energized, whether it's basic human rights or it's the environment. They're just not stopping. And from day one of my administration, we've stood with them.
Governor, I hate to admit it, but I was part of that early Earth Day. I was only 7 years old, but—[laughter]. God, I—oh, my Lord, I can't even believe I said that. [Laughter]
But anyway, it's been a passion of mine as long as I've been involved in public life. The first thing—what got me involved in politics—[laughter]—not that it matters to you all, but I was thinking about it on the way over here. [Laughter] I was a young attorney in Delaware, and they wanted—across the top of my State, they wanted to connect two highways, and it's through what is the most beautiful part of the State.
But instead of being willing to do it in an area that, in fact, had no consequence for the environment, they decided to put it through areas that were—that were straighter and—but more damaging. And I got involved to try to stop the construction of that highway, which I did. That's what got me involved. And it caused me great problems, because I ended up having to run for the county council, which was the hardest job I ever had. Didn't want it. [Laughter] At any rate—but as a matter of fact, in 1986, in the United States Senate, I introduced and we passed the first Global Climate Protection Act—the first time—and it was a warming legislation in the Senate.
And on Earth Day, you know, we convened last year over 40 leaders from around the globe, reasserting America's leadership on climate after 4 years of an administration denying that there was a climate crisis, denying that there was any need to do anything about the environment.
And the commitments galvanized that meeting—at that meeting, including our own goal of cutting emissions from 50 to 52 percent below '25 ['05]* levels by 2030 and reaching net-zero emissions by 2050, taking the steps the United States needs to limit the planet's warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. And the rest of the world started to come along. We did more than set bold goals; we acted to achieve them.
Last year, with all the disappointments we faced—but last year, the United States deployed the most solar, wind, and battery storage in American history. And we made record-setting investments in clean energy in rural America.
For example, we have a $1 billion program that no one knows about except the Department of Agriculture that grants and loans for farmers and rural co-ops to deploy solar and storage and powerlines to carry clean energy across the country.
We are investing in technology so you can heat and cool your home when the sun doesn't shine and the wind doesn't blow, because out here in Silicon Valley, you're developing the battery technology I—they showed me one that is about a little bit wider than this podium, about that thick, and about this wide that, in fact, you can install in your home. And when the sun ain't shining, that stored electricity runs the whole deal.
And by the way—by the way—windmills don't cause cancer. [Laughter]
And across the country, we have enough clean energy capacity to power now 56 million homes.
Now, here's what we're doing with automobiles. I'm an automobile buff. I have a '68 Corvette that does nothing but pollute the air. But I don't drive it very much. [Laughter]
And—but I brought together the automobile manufacturers. And Mary Berry [Barra],* who was—who runs General Motors, is a fine, fine person. At the time, she was suing the State of California—General Motors—for their increased mileage requirements that exceeded the Federal standard—I mean, exceeded—yes, the Federal standard. And the argument Ford—General Motors was making was you couldn't exceed the Federal standard locally.
And we had a long talk. And I didn't suggest it, but she dropped that suit and contacted me and said, "I'm going to make a commitment." I brought together the American automobile industry, and they agreed on an ambitious goal: 50-percent electric vehicles by—sales by the year 2030."
That's the commitment they made. I didn't make it for them. They made it, because they realized what the future is.
I saw it when I drove Ford's all-electric 150 pickup truck, which, I might add—this was disappointing—is faster than my Corvette. [Laughter] Now, you think I'm kidding. It's a Ford too. [Laughter] You know, although I did suggest if I'm out of office and they had the first electric Corvette, I want to buy it. [Laughter] But at any rate, you know—and my—when I drove the electric Jeep Wagoneer around the South Lawn of the White House.
You know, to date, automakers have announced investments of more than $100 billion in EV manufacturing—$100 billion. That's along with us setting ambitious standards to cut pollution in cars and trucks to boost fuel economy standards, which we're going to be announcing very soon, upping the mileage requirement that—for the minimum mileage requirement.
But that's not all. The bipartisan infrastructure law—which the folks behind me are the reason why that occurred—I signed provides billions of dollars for a nationwide network of 500,000 charging stations—500,000.
And will—and with electric schoolbuses—by the way, I went down to North Carolina. You should see the factory down there. These buses—they have electric vehicles. It has a platform, folks, from me to you, about that thick; weighs about 6 zillion pounds. No engine. Nothing else. That's it.
And—but it's all electric. All electric. And guess what? We're going to eliminate tens of thousands of diesel school buses, which pollute the air and pollute the lungs.
And look, industry—this industry and union workers are all stepping up. And there's a lot more.
Here in Washington State, you're going to triple the Federal commitment to your Link—we're going to triple the Federal commitment to your Link Light Rail system, speeding progress on the largest transit—[applause]. As my colleagues in the Senate will recall, I was referred to as "Mr. Amtrak." [Laughter] I've taken over 1,200,000 miles in Amtrak commuting—commuting every single day—you think I'm joking—for 36 years every single day when the Senate was in session to go home and see my kids.
And—but the folks—you know, it's a simple proposition. Most people don't realize it. Given a choice to go from point A to point B and rail—electric rail—or drive your automobile, if you can get there fast—as fast or faster on rail, you take the rail. The estimates take—will take millions of vehicles off the road. The largest transit construction project in the country that runs entirely on clean energy.
The bipartisan infrastructure law provides $66 billion—it's passed—$66 billion for freight rail; $39 billion for public transit; $10.6 billion for clean electric buses; and $2.5 billion for clean ferries on my coast of Delaware and out here for you all. This will take millions of cars worth of pollution off the road and get people to places quicker.
You know, look, I think one Amtrak train carries as many passengers—I know this statistic—as six lanes of a major interstate highway. That's how many passengers it carries. Look, it matters.
We saw new standards—we set new standards. We slashed methane and brought over 100 nations together when I was at the—at the big meeting we had in Europe. A hundred nations around the globe. And I got them to—I—there's two things I was able to accomplish. One, I got a pledge—a pledge from a hundred—I think it was 144 of them—that they would eliminate methane and do the same thing we're doing to keep it. It's the most damaging of all the pollutants that are going up.
We also set new standards for superpolluting HFC emissions. Remember the big fight we had? I know it, because when I almost lost an election because the DuPont company makes the—long story. Anyway. [Laughter]
But look, we set new standards for cleaner cement. You say, "What the hell are you talking about, Joey?" This is probably the only audience to understand—cleaner cement. Cement is an incredible pollutant—an incredible pollutant. And it matters because cement is responsible for 8 percent of the global climate emissions. Cement. I've got to admit to you, as long as I've been involved in this, until 2 years ago, I didn't know that. And we're delivering across the country.
Lots of folks have promised it, but my administration is actually delivering and revitalizing communities across Appalachia.
Look, folks, I come from Scranton, Pennsylvania, where I was raised. The reason I got to Delaware is, coal died. My dad was not in the coal mines; he was in sales—but the whole economy died. And you know, you can understand why in places like West Virginia and Southeastern Pennsylvania, why people were worried about doing away with coal. You know, but it's their jobs; they wonder what they're going to do.
But guess what? In the bipartisan infrastructure bill, the law is going to help us cap and seal abandoned mines—thousands—there's thousands of abandoned mines—cap and seal them. They're no longer going to see pollution in the air or the water. The laws putting abandoned mine workers to work at the same salary they were working digging the mines in the first place. There are several thousand of these wells that have to be capped. And they have to harvest the energy. And they're going to get paid.
So we've provided alternatives. They are manufacturing and installing solar panels where they once dug for coal.
Look, here out—out here in the West, we are repowering retired power plants and clean energy—clean hydrogen and advanced nuclear, making them economic hubs again.
And in the Heartland, in the fields that feed our country, we're planting cover crops to pull carbon out of the air and out of the atmosphere. You know, they're becoming carbon sinks.
Look, across the country, we set the first-ever national conservation goal and protected more land and water than any other administration on record in our first year, because we can do it. And now the farmers are beginning to realize: "If I put things in conservation, I get paid for putting cover crops down that absorb carbon. It makes sense to me." It keeps the land open, and it makes the environment much better. And they get paid for it. And they should get paid for it. It's their land.
We're protecting natural wonders and cultural treasures, national monuments.
I remember a little girl came up to me with her—I don't know where—how it happened, but I was walking outside and a woman came up with her little girl and said—she said, "Mr. Pwesident, please protect Bears Ears." I said, "I beg your pardon, honey." She said, "Please protect Bears Ears." I said, "Bears Ears?" She said, "Yes." And I knew what Bears Ears was, because I've tried to take my kids to almost every national park. And I said, "Okay, honey." She said, "Pwomise me." [Laughter] "Pwomise me." [Laughter]
And we did. Bears Ears. Forests like the Tongass Forest. And by the way, we got some of the conservative Republicans to support it in their State. We got some support for it. And now we're working to restore the salmon runs here in the Northwest.
Look, we're putting America on the cutting edge. We've approved the first commercial-scale offshore wind project in Federal waters, which has already broken ground with U.S workers and U.S. steel, who are going to be building these facilities.
By the way, I was up in—in Colorado and looking at the facilities we have there. You know, we now have—we now have—windmills that the blades on those windmills, 102 yards long. You hear me? 102 yards long. They can be placed way out in the ocean. And you know—and by the way, I made it clear to my friends up in Nantucket and that area, "I don't want to hear anymore about you don't like looking at them." [Laughter] They're pretty.
But seriously. It's incredible the breakthroughs that we're making. Once you tell a nation that "We can do this, go do it," it's amazing what happens. It's amazing what happens.
We've launched the first-ever commercial flight powered by 100-percent sustainable aviation fuel. It lifted off with fuel grown here in America. Grown in America.
We set the first net-zero commitments for U.S. steel companies, and now we're rewarded for clean air—clean production through our first-ever international carbon-based trade deal, which makes clean American steel cheaper to buy than dirty steel from other countries. And we're making it clear to the rest of the world, that's what we're going to do.
We've put environmental justice at the center of what we do, addressing the disproportionate health, environmental, and economic impacts that have been borne primarily by communities of color, places too often left behind.
I grew up when—when coal died in Scranton, I moved—we moved to Delaware, where my dad had grown up. We moved to a little steel town called Claymont, Delaware, which was right at that arch that goes up into the Pennsylvania area there. And it's near a place called Marcus Hook, where there were more—at the time, more oil refineries than in Houston—in Houston. Because of 10 million people in the Delaware Valley up there.
And I—we—I went to the small, little school that was about a mile from the apartment complex we lived in, and—a little school called Holy Rosary. And I—you couldn't walk to school because, although it was a four-lane access highway, it was just too dangerous to cross some of the streets.
And my mother would get—and when it came spring—I mean it became the fall—this is the God's truth—and you'd get in the car, there's a little frost on the window, turn on the windshield wiper, there'd be an oil slick. Not a joke.
I have asthma, and 80 percent of the people who, in fact, we grew up with have asthma. That's what you call a fenceline community. I understand what it's like. I—we only lived there—I went to school there for 12 years. But I didn't live there that whole time.
My generic point is, if you take a look, my State used to be—thank God it's no longer—had the highest cancer rate of any State in the Nation because we have fenceline communities going down Route 9, and going down along the Delaware River—major facilities, oil plants, and the like. And the people that get hurt are the people who live on the other side of those fences.
I made a commitment: They're the people who are going to get helped as we move this. They're the people where the money is going to go to help their neighborhoods. They're—and this bipartisan infrastructure law gives communities the money they need to get forever chemicals—PFAS—off—out of their water. They're deadly, deadly. And a lot of it's responsible because we, the Government, and the military has engaged in activities that we didn't realize how it was dangerous, over the years. But we're going to get rid of it all.
We started replacing 100 percent—100 percent—of all the lead pipes and poison—that poison our water in America. Four hundred thousand schools and daycare centers—their kids can't turn on that water without getting—or worried about there's lead in that water. Ten million homes in America and here in this city and this State.
Because every American and every child should be able to turn on a faucet and drink clean water, which will also create thousands of good-paying jobs for plumbers and pipefitters and others.
Look, look—all you've got to do is look around: Cities and States are acting, businesses are acting, I'm acting. We need Congress to act as well. And the people behind me are pushing Congress hard. They are pushing Congress hard, calling them to pass new investments and tax credits aimed directly at lowering costs for families.
Look, you talk about, you know, a couple—there's only two Senators that occasionally don't vote with me. That's right, right? [Laughter] Literally, 48—they talk about the split in the Democratic Party. There's virtually no split in the Democratic Party. We just happen to have 50 "presidents." [Laughter] You know, you have 50 Senators and 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans. I mean, any one can change the dynamic. Right?
But all kidding aside, 48 percent of my Democratic colleagues in the Senate vote with me 94 percent of the time. So it's not like we have a split, but we don't have—we have virtually no Republicans.
There's some. We get up to as many as seven or eight will vote. This ain't your father's Republican Party. Not—not a joke. All you've got to do is look what is being played on—played this morning about the tape that was released. Anyway. [Laughter]
You know, but the—all kidding aside, this is the MAGA party now. It's—you know, you got the Senator from Texas and others. These guys are a different breed of cat. They're not like what I served with for so many years.
And the people who know better are afraid to act correctly, because they know they'll be primaried. I've had—I won't mention any of them; I promised I never would, and I won't—but up to six come to me and say: "Joe, I want to be with you on such and such but I can't. I'll be primaried. I'll lose my race. I'll lose my race."
So, folks, we've got to—this is going to start to change.
Look, that bill that we talked about that is the infrastructure bill, there were two pieces of it. And it was one bill initially. And that bill had about 800,000—$800 million in it for environmental-related issues.
Well, the one that didn't pass—the part that didn't pass yet is the one that has $531 million for environmental. But we got lot done though in the bill that passed, called the infrastructure bill, that has to do with the environment, including tax credits for purchases of electric and fuel-cell vehicles now—new or used.
But you're going to save a typical driver about 80,000—$80 a month from not having to pay gas at the pump. Tax credits for folks to buy solar panels and heat pumps and more efficient windows, saving each an average of $500 a year to do this, just making your home tighter so you don't leak the heat and leak the air conditioning air going out.
You know, and my pen is ready. My pen is ready to sign. I'm anxious to sign these. Get some of these bills to my desk.
And we can't forget—[applause]—we can't forget that achieving our ambitious climate goals is going to require nature itself to play a role. You know, if you compare the map of North America in 1620—and we have some of these maps—with America today, you'll see much of our—how much we've devastated our forests.
I mean, it used to be—if you'd look, from the Atlantic Coast almost to the Mississippi River was heavy forest, and we took it all down over those years. That's why today I'm signing an Executive order to conserve our forests that do so much to protect us. You know, our forests are our planet's lungs. They literally are recycling and cycling CO2 out of the atmosphere. That's what they do.
By the way, more the—I spent time down in the Amazon and in Colombia and in Brazil, and guess what? More carbon is taken out of the air in the Amazon—that carbon sink—than every bit of carbon that is generated on a daily basis in the entire United States from every source.
So what we should be doing and I'm trying to get done—and they're not going to maybe like this—we should be paying the Brazilians not to cut down their forest. We got to cut ours down. We got to cut ours down. We got the benefit of it. Because we've got these third-world countries—not third world; some are—in Africa and in South America—we've got to—the industrial countries have to help.
Scientists estimate that the protection and restoration of our natural lands and waters can provide more than one-third of the solution to climate change, just that, if we did nothing else.
So today I'm about to sign an Executive order to strengthen our forest on Federal lands and make them and the local economies they support more resilient in the face of wildfires.
I've flown over every major wildfire in this country with FEMA since—not every; a couple I didn't, but the vast majority of them—and it's devastating. I've seen it from helicopters with FEMA just flying over here and Idaho. I didn't get to go to Oregon, but California. It's absolutely devastating.
So we're going to work with State and local and Tribal governments to map, catalog, and then conserve old-growth forests on our public lands. These are the forests—[applause]—we're going to do this. These are the forests that store, sequester incredible amounts of carbon and help us fight climate change. The forests that are home to majestic trees, like the ones here in the—this park's "Magnificent Forest."
You know, the Executive order I'm going to sign is going to make good on the international forest protection commitments from the proposal I made in Scotland, at Glasgow 26 [COP26].* I got 140 countries to sign up and say that, together—and we represent 90 percent of the world's forest. And this includes our own effort to crack down on trafficking of illegal logged wood and products like the ones illegally deforesting areas around the world.
In addition to that, I put in the bipartisan infrastructure bill a—that we're going to plant 1.2 billion trees—1.2 billion trees across this country to begin the vital work of reforesting America. It makes sense, and it also makes a big difference, including in our cities and on our city streets.
The Executive order also recognizes that when it comes to protecting our communities from floods and storms, nature can help us as well. For example, when it comes to stopping flooding, sometimes a wetland is more effective than a seawall. I live along a State where it's only—the average—3 feet above sea level—the State of Delaware, the Delaware River, the Delaware Bay, and the Atlantic Ocean.
Well, you saw what happened, by the way, down on the Gulf. You saw what happened in Louisiana when they had that—you know, it matters whether that—there's a wetlands. They're significantly more consequential than seawalls. In order to help bring more of those nature-based solutions into our planning, we have to move quickly.
And with this Executive order on Earth Day, we're also showing this moment of maximum threat and urgency can also be a moment of enormous hope and enormous opportunity. You know, that we—you know, that we carry "in heart and mind the image of the ideal place, the right place, the one true home, known or unknown, actual or visionary." I know you all feel it. And you wouldn't be sitting here in the cold with your coats not on—[laughter]—if you didn't.
So I'm now going to sign this Executive order. And I think we're going to make—I just think this is the beginning of a new day. And we're going to just have to overtake the opposition on this. I really mean it.
So thank you all for being here. I'm going to sign this Executive order.
[At this point, the President moved to a signing desk. He resumed his remarks as follows.]
"Strengthening the Nations Forests, Communities, and Local Economies". And that's all about planting about a billion-two-hundred-million trees.
So—and by the way, anybody bring their shovels? [Laughter] All right.
[The President signed the Executive order.]
Is this a State park, or is this a city park?
Governor Jay R. Inslee of Washington. City.
Mayor Bruce A. Harrell of Seattle, WA. City park.
The President. Mr. Mayor.
Mayor Harrell. Yes, sir.
Secretary of the Interior Debra A. Haaland. On Tribal land! [Laughter]
The President. Let me give you this.
Gov. Inslee. Right here. Right here. He's right behind you.
[The President handed the signing pen to Mayor Harrell.]
All right. Nice job, Bruce.
Mayor Harrell. Thank you.
The President. There you go.
And by the way, notice who runs the Department of Interior now.
All right. Well, thanks.
NOTE: The President spoke at 11:07 a.m. in Seward Park. In his remarks, he referred to former President Donald J. Trump; former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator W. Michael McCabe; Mary T. Barra, chair and chief executive officer, General Motors Co.; and Sens. Joseph A. Manchin III, Kyrsten L. Sinema, and R. Edward "Ted" Cruz.
* White House correction.
Joseph R. Biden, Remarks on Signing an Executive Order on Strengthening the Nation's Forests, Communities, and Local Economies in Seattle, Washington Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/355536