How the Biden Administration Can Empower Local Climate Action

The Urban Lawyer 2021

22 Pages Posted: 7 Dec 2021

See all articles by Sarah Fox

Sarah Fox

Northern Illinois University - College of Law

Date Written: October 2021


The Biden Administration entered office amid a flurry of executive orders and announcements, no small part of which focused on environmental actions. More specifically, the Administration entered with the stated intention of addressing the climate crisis through a variety of measures that include executive action as well as possible federal legislation. For the federal government to be focused on climate action for the first time in four years is an unequivocally positive change. However, the Biden Administration will certainly encounter many roadblocks to fast action, including delays inherent in regulatory rollback and rulemakings, political hurdles and expenditure of political capital in Congress, the possibility of unfavorable judicial rulings on climate actions, and more.

Those realities weigh in favor of an aggressive federal push for climate action coupled with continued empowerment of state and local governments to take up the climate policy reins. States that wish to engage in climate action generally have the authority to do so, unless preempted by federal law, and many states have taken a variety of climate actions. Local governments have also engaged in a considerable amount of action on climate change, though with less uniformity with regard to questions about their authority to engage in that action. Acknowledging the importance of the role that local governments play in filling gaps in climate policy—particularly in the absence of comprehensive federal climate legislation—the Biden Administration may be able to assist local governments in shoring up their authority, protection from preemption, and ability to engage in climate action. In exercising this federal power, the Administration may also have the ability to steer local action toward environmentally helpful mitigation actions, and away from questionable adaptation plans.

This Essay offers suggestions for how the current federal administration may be able to empower local climate action, including work by specific agencies on regulatory action, provision of federal funding, and the federal role in collection of climate data. In doing so, it builds on previous work by the author that explores the importance of local governments in environmental federalism, and the potential for federal empowerment of local governments at a broader level. By now drilling down to this more particular level of executive action, this Essay offers a map for federal climate action that ensures a continued path for empowerment of local governments amid what is likely to be a continually changing political landscape at the federal level.

Keywords: local government, sustainability, climate change, environmental law, environmental federalism

Suggested Citation

Fox, Sarah, How the Biden Administration Can Empower Local Climate Action (October 2021). The Urban Lawyer 2021, Available at SSRN:

Sarah Fox (Contact Author)

Northern Illinois University - College of Law ( email )

Swen Parson Hall
DeKalb, IL 60115
United States

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