Biden casts crisis as ‘opportunity’ during optimistic Earth Day speech

Associated Press/Daniel Kim
President Joe Biden addresses the topic of climate change at Seward Park on Earth Day, Friday, April 22, 2022, in Seattle. Biden on Friday signed an executive order intended to help restore national forests devastated by wildfires, drought and blight, using an Earth Day visit to Seattle to press for more action on the environment. (Daniel Kim/The Seattle Times via AP, Pool)

President Biden struck an optimistic tone about the planet’s future during a speech on Earth Day, despite setbacks his administration is facing on its climate agenda. 

“We’ve reached the point that the crisis on the environment has become so obvious, with the notable exception of the former president, that we really have an opportunity to do things we couldn’t have done two, five, 10 years ago,” Biden said, making a dig at former President Trump.  

“This crisis is, as I said, is a genuine opportunity, an opportunity to do things we’ve wanted to do that only now have become so apparent,” he added during a speech at Seattle’s Seward Park. 

He also called on Congress to pass his long-stalled climate legislation.  

“Cities and states are acting. Businesses are acting. I’m acting. We need Congress to act as well,” he said. 

At the event, Biden signed an executive order aimed at protecting old-growth forests, those that have older trees and store a significant amount of carbon dioxide.  

The executive order will require the Agriculture and Interior departments to inventory mature and old-growth forests on federal lands by next year, and analyze threats facing them such as wildfires.  

It will also require the departments to develop new policies to implement “climate-smart” management to address the threats, according to a White House fact sheet. And the administration will develop 2030 reforestation targets.  

It will also direct agencies to carry out the country’s first-ever nature assessment that looks at how nature could change in the future and look for investment opportunities.  

During his speech, Biden also floated paying Brazil not to cut down the Amazon rainforest.  

The president also jabbed at his predecessor’s comments opposing wind energy, saying “by the way, windmills don’t cause cancer.” 

He also took a shot at House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), after tapes released of him this week revealed he made comments critical of Trump, some of which he originally denied.  

“This ain’t your father’s Republican Party,” he said. “All you’ve got to do is look this morning at the tape that was released. … Kidding aside, this is the MAGA party now.” 

The new announcement comes with significantly less anticipation than last year’s Earth Day announcement, when the president announced that the U.S. would try to cut its emissions at least in half by the end of the decade compared to where it was in 2005.  

Democrats’ inability to pass significant climate change legislation — amid opposition from Republicans and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) — has cast a shadow over Biden’s climate goals. 

Biden lightly jabbed at Manchin and Sen Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), another centrist, during his remarks without naming them.  

“There’s only two senators who occasionally don’t vote with me,” Biden said. “There’s virtually no split in the Democratic Party.” 

Biden said that because of the narrow margins in the Senate, Democrats effectively have “50 presidents.” 

“Anyone can change the dynamic,” he said. 

Measures like the clean energy tax credits included in the ill-fated Build Back Better bill would have been key to achieving significant reductions in planet-warming emissions. It’s not clear whether Democrats will be able to salvage a climate and social spending bill or what it would include.  

The White House has quietly tried to revive elements of Biden’s sweeping domestic policy proposal in conversations with Democratic lawmakers, but there have been no breakthroughs in those discussions. The administration has tried to hold its discussions close to its chest after negotiations around Build Back Better spilled out into the press last fall. 

Biden’s environmental plans have also been complicated by the administration’s efforts to address surging gas prices that have been exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Biden last week moved to expand oil drilling on public land in the latest step to lessen the price at the gas pump.  

As Biden approached the venue for Friday’s speech, a group of protesters were gathered near the park demonstrating against fossil fuels.  

“Biden: no fossil fuel projects!” read one sign.  

A press release from the advocacy group Food & Water Watch said that its protesters were among those present, and faulted the administration for the recent announcement that it would lease about 140,000 acres of land for drilling. The Biden administration has blamed a court order blocking its leasing pause for the move.  

Biden, in his speech, also touted some environmental provisions in the bipartisan infrastructure law — and pledged to get rid of contamination from toxic “forever chemicals.” 

“This bipartisan infrastructure law gives communities the money they need to get forever chemicals, PFAS, out of the water, they’re deadly, deadly, and a lot of it’s responsible because we the government and the military has engaged in activities that we didn’t realize that were dangerous over the years, but we’re going to get rid of it all,” he said. 

Biden’s appearance in Seattle is part of a two-day trip out west that he also used to promote the bipartisan infrastructure law enacted last year. Biden also appeared at two fundraisers for the Democratic National Committee on Thursday evening. 

Tags Biden Build back better Climate change Climate plan Earth Day global warming old-growth forests President Biden

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