Biden urged to declare ‘climate emergency’

Biden’s signature environmental legislation indefinitely stalled, progressive Democrats and activists are lobbying the White House to declare a “climate emergency” to unlock executive powers. 

The tactic could allow Biden to shut down crude oil exports, suspend offshore drilling, and redirect funding for clean energy projects. Former President Donald Trump used a similar step to divert billions of dollars to build a wall along the southern border after Congress refused to appropriate the funds. 

Now with Biden’s Build Back Better Act – and the more than $550 billion contained within to fight climate change -- suspended amid objections from Republicans and Democratic Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, progressives a launching a Plan B. Their new campaign is designed to get Biden to declare an emergency to stave off global warming. 

“If we can’t work with Manchin to get Build Back Better done, it’s time to use his executive authority,” said Representative Jared Huffman, a California Democrat, and one of several in the Congressional Progressive Caucus urging Biden to use emergency authority. “It’s one of the clearest ways to bolster his authority and open up some policy options so he can meet the moment.”

Representative Earl Blumenauer, a Democrat from Oregon, arrives to a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, April 20, 2021. Lawmakers reintroduced the Green New Deal and introduced the Civilian Climate Corps Act.

Backing the new push is Representative Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat, who wrote legislation mandating national climate emergency declaration, along with progressive Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. 

“The scientists, experts, and all of our own lived experiences in the past few years make it clear: this is a climate emergency and it is past time to take action,” Blumenauer said. 

Invoking a climate emergency also could allow Biden to use the Defense Production Act and the federal procurement budget of $500 billion per year to produce renewable energy and clean transportation technologies, according to a report being released Wednesday by the Center for Biological Diversity. 

In addition, the president would be able to direct the Federal Emergency Management Agency to construct renewable energy systems and limit the construction of fossil fuel infrastructure, according to the report. 

“It’s a plan B,” said Jean Su, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “It makes sense to look at what the executive branch can do on its own instead of primarily relying on Congress.”

The White House has told the group that “nothing is off the table,” when asked about the idea, Su said. A White House spokesman didn’t return a request for comment. 

Any such move would almost certainly face court challenges – just as Trump’s wall funding maneuver did. In July 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court cleared his administration’s plan to use disputed Pentagon funds to construct more than 100 miles (161 kilometres) of fencing along the Mexican border.

More than 1,000 advocacy groups including the Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club, and Friends of the Earth, are releasing a letter to Biden Thursday urging a climate emergency declaration in hopes it might get a mention during his State of the Union speech next month.

“Your administration’s legislative and regulatory climate proposals have not addressed limiting the production and burning of fossil fuels, the main driver of climate change,” the groups wrote. “As fossil fuel lobbyists and politicians continue to block real climate action in Congress, bold executive action is desperately needed.”  

© 2022 Bloomberg L.P.

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