On Day One, Biden takes sweeping action on COVID, climate, immigration

Signing several actions in front of reporters in the Oval Office, Biden said there was "no time to waste" in issuing the executive orders, memorandums and directives.

U.S. President Joe Biden signs executive orders in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington (photo credit: TOM BRENNER/REUTERS)
U.S. President Joe Biden signs executive orders in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington
(photo credit: TOM BRENNER/REUTERS)
US President Joe Biden signed 15 executive actions shortly after being sworn on Wednesday, undoing policies put in place by his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump, and making his first moves on the pandemic and climate change.
Signing several actions in front of reporters in the Oval Office on Wednesday afternoon, Biden said there was "no time to waste" in issuing the executive orders, memorandums and directives.
"Some of the executive actions I'm going to be signing today are going to help change the course of the COVID crisis, we're going to combat climate change in a way that we haven't done so far and advance racial equity and support other underserved communities" said Biden. “These are just all starting points”
COVID
Aides said the actions the Democratic president signed included a mask mandate on federal property and for federal employees, an order to establish a new White House office coordinating the response to the coronavirus, and halting the process of withdrawing from the World Health Organization.
The actions Biden signed on Wednesday included a mask mandate on federal property and for federal employees, an order to establish a new White House office coordinating the response to the virus and halting the process of withdrawing from the World Health Organization, aides said.
The Biden administration also intends to join the COVAX alliance, an initiative led by the World Health Organization and two other groups that seeks to secure greater access to COVID-19 vaccines for poor countries.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed the re-engagement of the United States with WHO, said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric, adding it was "absolutely critical" for a better coordinated global response against COVID-19.
"With vaccines being a critical tool in the battle against COVID-19, the United States joining and supporting the COVAX facility will give momentum to efforts to ensure equitable access to vaccines for all countries," Dujarric said.
Biden was also poised to nominate an acting US surgeon general as soon as Wednesday, MSNBC reported, following the resignation of Trump appointee Jerome Adams.
CLIMATE
Biden signed a document to begin the process of re-entering the Paris climate accord and issued a sweeping order tackling climate change, including revoking the presidential permit granted to the contentious Keystone XL oil pipeline, dashing Ottawa's hopes of salvaging the $8 billion project that the struggling Canadian crude sector has long supported.
The move represents another set-back for the beleaguered Canadian oil industry, in particular its energy heartland Alberta, kills thousands of jobs, and marks an early bump in Biden's relationship with Canada, a key trading partner.
Keystone XL, owned by TC Energy Corp, is already under construction in Canada, and would carry 830,000 barrels per day of Alberta oil sands crude to Nebraska.
But opposition from US landowners, Native American tribes, and environmentalists has delayed the project for the past 12 years and Biden had long pledged to scrap the permit.
"While we welcome the President's commitment to fight climate change, we are disappointed but acknowledge the President's decision to fulfill his election campaign promise on Keystone XL," Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement.
Biden also announced America's return to the international Paris Agreement to fight climate change, the centerpiece of a raft of day-one executive orders aimed at restoring US leadership in combating global warming.
The announcements also included a sweeping order to review all of former President Donald Trump's actions weakening climate change protections, the revocation of a vital permit for TC Energy's Keystone XL oil pipeline project from Canada, and a moratorium on oil and gas leasing activities in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that Trump's administration had recently opened to development.
The orders by the newly sworn-in president will mark the start of a major policy reversal in the world’s second-largest greenhouse gas emitter behind China, after the Trump administration pilloried climate science and rolled back environmental regulation to maximize fossil fuel development.
Biden's orders also require government agencies to consider revising vehicle fuel efficiency standards and methane emissions curbs, and to study the possibility of re-expanding the boundaries of wilderness national monuments that had been reduced in size by the Trump administration.
While environmental advocates were thrilled by the orders, industry groups and conservatives criticized them.
Biden has promised to put the United States on a track to net-zero emissions by 2050 to match the steep and swift global cuts that scientists say are needed to avoid the most devastating impacts of global warming, using curbs on fossil fuels and massive investments in clean energy.
The path will not be easy, though, with political divisions in the United States, opposition from fossil fuel companies, and wary international partners concerned about US policy shifts obstructing the way.
Trump withdrew the United States from the 2015 Paris deal late last year, arguing it was too costly to the US economy.
IMMIGRATION
Among a raft of orders addressing immigration, Biden revoked Trump's emergency declaration that helped fund the construction of a border wall and ended a travel ban on some majority-Muslim countries.
Biden signed half a dozen executive orders on Wednesday to reverse several hardline immigration policies put in place by former President Donald Trump, although migration experts warn that it will take months or longer to unravel many of the restrictions imposed in the past four years.
In a sharp departure from his Republican predecessor, Biden, a Democrat, also sent an immigration bill to lawmakers that proposes opening a path to citizenship for millions of immigrants living in the United States unlawfully.
The executive actions signed at a ceremony at the White House included immediately lifting a travel ban on 13 mostly Muslim-majority and African countries, halting construction of the US-Mexico border wall and reversing a Trump order preventing migrants who are in the United States illegally from being counted for congressional districts.
Biden also signed a memorandum directing the Department of Homeland Security and the US attorney general to preserve the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which protects migrants who came to the country as children from deportation, and reversed Trump's executive order calling for stricter interior immigration enforcement.

FURTHER EXECUTIVE ACTIONS PLANNED
The Day One plans were just the start of a flurry of executive actions Biden would take soon after entering office, said his press secretary, Jen Psaki.
"In the coming days and weeks, we will be announcing additional executive actions that confront these challenges and deliver on the president-elect's promises to the American people," Psaki said.
Further actions would include revoking the ban on military service by transgender Americans, and reversing a policy that blocks US funding for programs overseas linked to abortion.
Biden plans additional executive actions on Jan. 29 to restore US asylum protections, strengthen refugee processing and set up a task force to reunify families still separated by Trump's border policies, according to a memo shared with lawmakers and obtained by Reuters.
At the same time, the Biden administration will also review barriers to legal immigration put in place by Trump over the past four years, including a regulation that made it harder for poorer immigrants to get permanent residency, the memo said.
The new president is also expected on Jan. 29 to end a Trump program called the Migrant Protection Protocols, according to a person familiar with the plan. The program has left tens of thousands of asylum seekers waiting in Mexico for US court hearings, with many stuck for months in squalid tent camps near the southwest border.
Lifting the travel and implementing executive orders may be an easier task than getting Congress to pass Biden's ambitious immigration bill. It lays out an eight-year road map to citizenship for many of the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the country unlawfully, according to a fact sheet distributed to reporters by incoming White House officials on Tuesday.
Eligible immigrants who were in the country as of Jan. 1 and meet certain requirements would be given a temporary status for five years before being granted green cards. They could then apply for citizenship after three more years, officials said.
The wait time for legalization would be shorter for DACA recipients and immigrants living in the United States with Temporary Protected Status (TPS), both programs Trump tried to end. It would also be expedited for some farmworkers.
On the economic front, Biden asked the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to extend a moratorium on evictions until the end of March, and the Department of Education to suspend student loan payments until the end of September.