After much hullabaloo, the US has seen a peaceful transition of power to Democrat Joe Biden. The new president was sworn in on Wednesday and has pledged to build the US “back better.”
But what could it mean for the construction industry? Will we see stringent environmental protection policies? Should the construction sector be prepared for more trade war-inspired fluctuations in commodity prices?
On his first day, President Joe Biden signed 17 executive orders, memorandums, and proclamations, a lot of which affect construction deals with pandemic response and amending Trump’s relaxing of regulatory policy. The new administration also plans to sign more orders in the coming days.
The executive actions that could affect the construction industry are:
1. The President plans to sign an executive order directing the federal regulators to issue stronger guidance for workplaces operating in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. The order directs the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to update safety recommendations for businesses. It also directs the agency to consider the necessity of a temporary emergency standard, which businesses would have to comply with under the threat of penalties.
2. An executive order mandating the use of face masks and practicing physical distancing across all federal buildings, on all federal lands, and by all federal employees. This order is expected to put an end to the political debate around the use of face masks. It is expected to control the growing number of covid-19 cases in the US up to some extent, and create safer workplaces.
3. President Biden has ordered to halt the construction of the controversial border wall that was the signature infrastructure project of the Trump administration. The former administration had diverted about $10 billion from the Defense Department accounts toward the construction of one of the costliest federal infrastructure projects in the country’s history.
As of now, 455 miles of new barriers have been constructed for the wall, but the new proclamation orders the federal agencies to devise a plan to redirect border wall funds and “resume, modify, or terminate” segments of the structure that remain under construction, while a review of all resources appropriated or redirected to construct the wall is undertaken.
4. The President will also revoke the presidential permit for building the $9 billion Keystone XL oil pipeline, which was approved by Trump in 2017, reversing the decision of the Obama administration.
This will bring another setback to the already jinxed pipeline project, which is opposed by several environmentalists as the petroleum extracted from Alberta is an inferior quality bitumen, which generates 15% more greenhouse emissions. In addition, any leaks from the pipeline could threaten one of the largest freshwater reserves, the Ogallala Aquifer.
5. Not only will the US rejoin the Paris climate accords, but the country will also reverse the Trump-administration rollbacks to vehicle emissions standards. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge area will also see the imposition of a moratorium on oil and natural gas leases.