Expand electric transmission infrastructure as gateway to decarbonise power sector
Use of market mechanisms to support emissions reductions
Voluntary and incentive-based programmes to advance climate-smart agriculture
New climate resiliency strategies
"Whole of government" approach to reduce plastic pollution and waste at home


With 2022 underway, the Biden-Harris administration is continuing to implement its "whole-of-government" response to climate change. In 2021, the administration focused on:

In early 2022, the administration announced new actions and funding to address methane emissions – including $1.15 billion for states to cap abandoned oil and gas wells – while the Department of Interior (DOI) will hold its first offshore wind auction later this month. Going forward, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hopes to initiate new rule-makings to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from fossil fuel-based energy production and consumption. In addition, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will finalise new corporate fuel economy standards. 2022 could also see "strong and systemic" moves by financial regulators, such as the Securities and Exchange Commission's (SEC's) long-awaited proposed rule on climate-related disclosures.

All told, it is expected that there will be a flurry of regulatory and non-regulatory actions from the administration in 2022 aimed at achieving the United States' nationally determined contribution (NDC) under the Paris Agreement – a 50 to 52% reduction in economy-wide GHG emissions by 2030 leading to net-zero by 2050 – especially as the Democrats' window narrows for passing climate legislation before the congressional midterm elections.

This article is part of a series that highlights key climate and sustainability developments to watch in 2022 as the Biden-Harris administration rolls out its "year two" environmental agenda.(2)

Expand electric transmission infrastructure as gateway to decarbonise power sector

The Biden-Harris administration recognises the critical need to accelerate the build-out of new transmission infrastructure – including interstate power lines connecting intermittent renewables to load centres – to achieve its vision of a carbon-free grid by 2035. Accordingly, the Department of Energy (DOE) launched the Build a Better Grid initiative in January 2022 to "support the development of nationally significant transmission projects and grid upgrades" by deploying over $20 billion in financing to reduce project development risk and utilising existing statutory authorities to facilitate permitting and siting. One such authority is the DOE's ability to designate National Interest Electric Transmission Corridors (NIETCs), or areas that the DOE determines are experiencing – or are expected to experience – transmission capacity constraints or congestion that adversely impact customers.

Meanwhile, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Chair Richard Glick seeks to initiate one or more rulemakings in 2022 to update the FERC's transmission planning, cost allocation and generator interconnection rules. While too early to speculate on their scope, the FERC has a robust record upon which to build its proposed rules. For example, hundreds of stakeholders responded to a July 2021 advanced notice of proposed rulemaking that outlined numerous potential reforms within three areas:

  • regional transmission planning;
  • cost responsibility for regional transmission facilities and interconnection-related grid upgrades; and
  • oversight of the identification of and payment for new transmission facilities.

Despite consensus within the administration on the critical need for new transmission, the DOE's proposal to advance transmission development in NIETCs may face reluctance at the FERC. Although the DOE designates NIETCs, the FERC has the authority to grant transmission developers federal eminent domain authority within an NIETC. While the FERC's authority was expanded through the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) (by allowing the FERC to override a state's denial of a siting permit under applicable law),(3) Commissioner Allison Clements recently cautioned that the FERC is hesitant to use such authority to pre-empt state opposition. The FERC has instead opted for a collaborative approach with the states on transmission development by forming a joint taskforce with the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners.

Use of market mechanisms to support emissions reductions

As voluntary markets for carbon offsets and other climate-related products continue to evolve, the Biden-Harris administration has shown interest in better assessing the risks and opportunities of these markets for reducing emissions and determining what role, if any, the federal government should play in scaling their development.

To that end, it is believed that the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) is likely to take a closer look in 2022 at new financial products under development in the carbon derivatives markets to ensure integrity and transparency, while also considering the potential need for greater oversight to prevent manipulation and fraud. In September 2021, the CFTC's energy and environmental markets advisory committee (EEMAC) recommended that the CFTC form a new subcommittee to issue a report on:

the interplay between secondary cash markets for carbon allowances and offsets and the derivative markets for those products, with the goal of promoting uniformity across the various markets and enhancing liquidity.(4)

Although the CFTC has not yet adopted the EEMAC's recommendation, it is anticipated that the CFTC will do so once it regains quorum – especially given Chairman Rostin Behnam's support for increasing the CFTC's engagement in industry-led and market-driven processes in the climate and broader environmental, social and governance space.

Meanwhile, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) is preparing to launch a Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry Partnership (CSAFP) programme in the near future to finance "the deployment of climate-smart farming and forestry practices to aid in the marketing of climate-smart agricultural commodities" in voluntary carbon and ecosystem services markets. The programme could kick off a series of actions from the USDA in 2022 to help farmers, landowners and ranchers generate new revenues through voluntary climate action – namely, by adopting farming and land practices resulting in measurable, verifiable greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions or sequestration – which Congress may look to bolster through the Growing Solutions Climate Act. The Senate's bill – passed in June 2021 with significant bipartisan support – directs the USDA to establish a certification programme to provide transparency and "informal endorsement of third-party verifiers and technical service providers that help private landowners generate carbon credits through a variety of agriculture and forestry related practices" (for further information, see "Senate's Passage of Growing Climate Solutions Act Highlights Focus on Sustainable Agriculture"). The bill may face an uphill battle in the House, where it has since stalled.

Voluntary and incentive-based programmes to advance climate-smart agriculture

The USDA began 2022 by announcing a series of new, climate-smart, agricultural initiatives that build on its actions in 2021 to combat climate change. On 10 January 2022, the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) expanded the availability of its Environmental Quality Incentives Program Conservation Incentive Contract and announced it will allow producers to immediately re-enrol in the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) following an unfunded application to renew an existing contract. This will lift a two-year ineligibility restriction for CSP participants who failed to re-enrol during the year their contract expired. The changes will help to incentivise the implementation of conservation management practices nationwide and increase participation in both programmes. The NRCS further announced that it will host a sign up for agricultural producers in 11 states to combat climate change through the adoption of cover crops as part of its Cover Crop Initiative early in 2022.

The USDA also emphasised that it will prioritise restoring forest health and reducing "climate-amplified risks" to forests and grasslands through a new US Forest Service 10-year strategy. The strategy, launched in January 2022, will scale forest health treatments (eg, thinning and prescribed burning or pruning) on tens of millions of acres of overgrown forests and grasslands to reduce wildfire risk.

Going forward, the USDA will continue its efforts to implement the IIJA, which provides billions in funding for climate-smart infrastructure and wildland fire mitigation. In the short term, it is expected that the USDA will announce a notice of funding availability soliciting pilot project proposals for the CSAFP programme discussed above.

New climate resiliency strategies

Climate change-related disasters and extreme weather events such as hurricanes, flooding, winter storms and prolonged heat waves directly impact human health and can greatly burden healthcare systems, particularly in the area of telemedicine. Telehealth provides an alternative to traditional in-person care by utilising telephones, tablets, computers and remote patient monitoring devices. Telehealth can help expand access to healthcare, for example, where there are socioeconomic barriers related to travel or physician shortages in rural areas. Recognising the important relationship between communications services and the provision of healthcare, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has implemented various programmes to expand telehealth in response to the covid-19 pandemic.(5)

With the growth of telehealth comes increased climate-related vulnerabilities for the healthcare system. As the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recognises in its 2021 Climate Action Plan, power and internet outages caused by climate-driven events(6) can disrupt the provision of healthcare (such as telemedicine) and health-based research activities. When healthcare facilities providing those services are affected, patients ultimately suffer. Consistent with the administration's commitment to developing climate resiliency in accord with principles of environmental justice, it is anticipated that there will be new agency efforts that respond to the relationship between climate change-related disasters and weather events, the disruption of communications services and the provision of critical telehealth services. This could include infrastructure improvements, conducting risk assessments for major healthcare facilities and moving critical infrastructure to flood-resilient locations.

"Whole of government" approach to reduce plastic pollution and waste at home

In November, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken announced the United States' "support for multilateral negotiations on a global agreement to combat ocean plastic pollution", which began on 28 February 2022, at the fifth session of the UN Environment Assembly. Secretary Blinken's statement that the "agreement call on countries to develop and enforce strong national action plans to address this problem at its source" hinted that a "whole-of-government" approach to reducing plastics waste and pollution could be in the works in 2022. Such an approach could ultimately involve greater "cradle to grave" scrutiny of plastic production and plastic products.(7)

Momentum is building within the Biden-Harris administration for increased action on plastic pollution and waste. Recently, the DOE announced $13.4 million in funding for seven "next generation" technologies that reduce plastic waste and "cut the carbon footprint of plastic production", which currently "accounts for more than 3% of total U.S. energy consumption". Going forward, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is expected to initiate efforts in 2022 "to establish a goal related to climate impacts associated with the production, use, consumption and disposal of materials", which is all but certain to include plastic. The goal, noted by the EPA in its November 2021 National Recycling Strategy, will be one component in the EPA's broader "series dedicated to building a circular economy" with the national recycling strategy serving as part one.

For further information on this topic please contact Kenneth Markowitz, Stacey H Mitchell, Cynthia Mabry or Christopher A Treanor at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP by telephone (+1 202 887 4000) or email ([email protected], [email protected], [email protected] or ctreanor[email protected]). The Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP website can be accessed at

Shawn Whites, energy regulatory specialist, J Porter Wiseman, senior counsel, Bryan C Williamson, associate, Alexa Rummel, associate, John R Gilliland, consultant, Gabriel R Harrison, public policy specialist, and Charles Smith, contractor, assisted with the preparation of this article.


(1) These are but a few of the Biden-Harris administration's noteworthy climate-related actions in 2021. For a comprehensive listing, see here.

(2) For the first article in the series, see "Executive branch climate and sustainability developments to watch in 2022 – part one".

(3) See 16 US Code section 824p(b). For more background on NIETCs and FERC's authority prior to the IIJA, see "Election 2020: What Would a Biden Win Mean for the U.S. Electric Power Sector?"

(4) CFTC Energy and Environmental Markets Advisory Committee, 15 September 2021 Meeting Transcript at 5-6.

(5) For more background on FCC telehealth initiatives, see "FCC's Recent Telehealth Roundtable Emphasizes Telehealth is Here to Stay".

(6) Hurricane Ida, for example, resulted in significant communications service disruptions in Louisiana and Mississippi, and the FCC acted quickly to provide regulatory relief for impacted consumers and communications providers.

(7) For example, a 2021 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommends that the United States develop a "systemic strategy" that "focuses on identifying, implementing, and assessing equitable and effective interventions across the entire plastic life cycle to reduce the US contribution of plastic waste to the environment".