Biden says climate crisis is an emergency, but doesn’t declare one

“Climate change is literally an existential threat to our nation and to the world.”

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SOMERSET, MA - JULY 20: President Joe Biden delivers remarks on climate change and clean energy at Brayton Point Power Station on July 20, 2022 in Somerset, Massachusetts. Biden announced executive actions on the 'climate crisis.' (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)

As a third of the U.S. population baked under heat warnings or advisories Wednesday, President Joe Biden announced a series of executive actions on the climate crisis.

Biden’s remarks at a former Massachusetts coal plant come a little less than a week after West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin scuttled hopes of passing major climate legislation. In his speech, Biden announced executive actions and emphasized the urgency of the situation, but fell short of declaring a national climate emergency

“My message today is this — since Congress is not acting as it should … this is an emergency,” Biden said Wednesday, as CBS News reported. “And I will look at it that way. I said last week and I’ll say it again loud and clear. As president, I’ll use my executive powers to combat the climate crisis in the absence of congressional action.”  

The President announced three actions in particular on Wednesday, according to a White House Fact Sheet

  1. Allocating $2.3 billion in funding through the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help communities prepare for heat waves, hurricanes, flooding and other climate-fueled extreme weather events.
  2. Releasing guidance from the Department of Health and Human Services on how the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) can provide low cost air conditioning, cooling centers and other means of staying cool in high heat.
  3. Expanding offshore wind power into the Gulf of Mexico.

The Brayton Point Power Station in Somerset, Massachusetts, was chosen specifically for the remarks because it is a former coal plant that now makes cables for offshore wind power.

“Many of these fossil fuel plants are becoming sites for new, clean energy construction,” Biden said, as CBS news reported. “Others are switching to new clean technologies. Look at Brayton Point.” 

Biden did not declare a national climate emergency, as some Democrats and environmental groups have called for. And The New York Times noted that his executive actions would not lead to a significant decline in greenhouse gas emissions. Biden has set a goal of reducing U.S. emissions by half of 2005 levels by 2030, but his agenda has been hampered on the legislative front by Machin’s stonewalling and on the executive front by a recent Supreme Court ruling that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can’t regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants en masse without Congressional approval. 

In this context, some climate activists want more aggressive executive action. The youth-led Sunrise Movement has launched a petition calling on Biden to declare a climate emergency and take actions including ending fossil fuel drilling on public lands and refusing permits to any new fossil fuel infrastructure like pipelines. 

“All we’ve seen are a handful of executive actions and the slow death of climate legislation in Congress,” the group’s executive director Varshini Prakash said in a statement reported by The New York Times. “Young people are tired of receiving scraps from our government.”

The Biden administration, meanwhile, did not rule out an official declaration. 

“Everything is on the table. It’s just not going to be this week on that decision,” press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Tuesday, as CNN reported.

The administration also said Wednesday’s announcement marked only the first of a coming list of executive actions on climate. 

“Climate change is literally an existential threat to our nation and to the world,” Biden said Wednesday, as The New York Times reported. 

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