Biden labels climate change an ‘emergency,’ stopping short of declaration

Associated Press/Evan Vucci
President Joe Biden arrives to speak about climate change and clean energy at Brayton Power Station, Wednesday, July 20, 2022, in Somerset, Mass. From left, Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry and Biden. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Biden labeled climate change as an “emergency” on Wednesday but stopped short of declaring a national emergency following pressure from climate advocates. 

In a speech at a former coal plant in Somerset, Mass., Biden also pledged to take action to combat the threat of climate change after congressional action stalled. 

“As president, I have a responsibility to act with urgency and resolve when our nation faces clear and present danger. And that is what climate change is about,” Biden said. “This is an emergency.”

“As president, I’ll use my executive powers to combat the climate crisis in the absence of congressional action,” he added. 

Biden delivered the speech less than a week after opposition from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) derailed his sweeping climate proposal that had been stalled on Capitol Hill for months. The collapse of those negotiations has led to the renewed focus on executive climate action.

But in his speech, Biden explicitly blamed Republican lawmakers, rather than Manchin, for the lack of action on Capitol Hill. 

“Not a single Republican in Congress stepped up to support my climate plan,” Biden said.

He did not directly acknowledge Manchin’s decision to walk away from the talks.

Later on Wednesday, Biden told reporters that he will “will make a decision” on a climate emergency “soon.” 

He also said he had not spoken with Manchin when asked whether he thinks the senator could agree to some climate provisions.

Democrats had tried to pass Biden’s climate and social policy vision with a simple majority through a process known as budget reconciliation, which would allow them to sidestep the GOP filibuster. But doing so meant garnering support from all 50 Senate Democrats, including Manchin.

Biden delivered the speech at the Brayton Point Power Station in Somerset, a coal-fired power plant that is being transformed into an offshore wind manufacturing facility. 

He sought to link climate change directly to the economy throughout his remarks, saying that the Brayton Point plant and other clean energy projects would generate American jobs. He also said that extreme weather threatens economic damage by spurring supply chain disruptions. 

Biden announced a proposal to generate offshore wind energy in the Gulf of Mexico and to try to mitigate the impacts of extreme heat for vulnerable communities. 

The president also said that in the “coming days” his administration will announce executive actions aimed at climate change that it has developed. 

A source told The Hill on Tuesday that the White House planned to declare a climate emergency as soon as Wednesday, but later in the day advised that it wouldn’t.

While progressive activists said they support the actions that Biden took on Wednesday, they said he also needs to do more. 

“Today, Biden said that climate change is an emergency, but we are sick of watching this administration fail to treat it as such. We are a year and half into the Biden presidency and all we’ve seen are a handful of executive actions, and the slow death of climate legislation in Congress,” Sunrise Movement Executive Director Varshini Prakash said in a statement.

“This moment is critical for the Biden Presidency — he can either take action and deliver for millions of people, or he will forever be known as the president who condemned my generation to an unlivable world,” Prakash said. 

The administration could still make an emergency declaration with respect to climate change, but officials have indicated the move is under review.

“The president wants to make sure that we’re doing this right, that we’re laying it out and that we have the time we need to get this done,” White House climate adviser Gina McCarthy told reporters aboard Air Force One on Wednesday when asked about the debate surrounding a national emergency declaration.

Experts have said that while Biden has many tools at his disposal to fight climate change, legislative action could have been even more transformative, and Manchin’s refusal to support it is a big blow to the planet

“While it’s disappointing that Congress couldn’t get it over the finish line, that in no way precludes the president from using the full range of his executive authorities to get us where we need to go,” McCarthy said.  

She indicated that Wednesday’s speech would kick off a series of executive actions the administration plans to take in the coming weeks, though she declined to quantify the forthcoming actions. 

Biden was joined on his visit to the Bay State by progressive Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass). Both senators called on Biden to declare a climate emergency. 

Tags Biden clean energy Climate change climate emergency Climate emergency Gina McCarthy Joe Biden joe manchin Joe Manchin massachusetts offshore wind Sunrise movement

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