Joe Biden is under pressure to declare a national climate emergency as temperatures soar in the United States and Europe.
Facing the political stalemate in Washington, the president could make such an announcement — which would free up federal resources to deal with the crisis — as soon as this week, The Washington Post reported Tuesday.
Biden will visit a coal-fired power plant turned wind turbine in Massachusetts on Wednesday, to promote his climate action efforts.
Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, said Biden would announce “additional actions” to tackle the climate crisis on Wednesday, but ruled out declaring a national emergency just yet.
“He’s not just going to stop at tomorrow’s actions, but I don’t anticipate an announcement this week on the national climate emergency,” Jean-Pierre said during the daily White House briefing. “Once again, everything is on the table. It just won’t be this week on this decision…I don’t have a date circled on the calendar.
The president indicated last week that he would take action to reduce carbon emissions after West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin – a crucial deciding vote in the equally divided Senate – withdrew his support for climate legislation that Democrats were hoping to pass before leaving Washington for the August recess and as they face a tough midterm election in November.
But the president’s ability to circumvent Congress remains limited, and the impact of declaring a climate emergency, for all its symbolism, remains ambiguous.
The absence of global action jeopardizes the objectives of the fight against global warming.
The Post report noted that some climate activists argued that declaring an emergency would allow Biden “to halt crude oil exports, limit oil and gas drilling in federal waters, and direct agencies, including including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to stimulate renewable energy sources”.
However, such moves could face legal challenges from Republicans critical of what they see as executive overreach.
Rich Lowry, editor of the conservative magazine National Review, tweeted in response to the report: “Once again [the White House] shows contempt for the rules of our constitutional republic.
The constraints were underscored last month when the Supreme Court effectively blocked the Environmental Protection Agency from issuing rules on emissions involving matters of great “economic and political importance”.
Democrats, however, are eager to see Biden act as the planetary alarm bell rings ever louder: CNN reported that nearly 20% of the US population will likely see a temperature at or above 100F (37.7C) this week. Britain recorded its highest ever temperature of 104F (40C) as the heat wave that has been gripping Europe intensified.
Two Senate Democrats, Jeff Merkley and Sheldon Whitehouse, have urged the president to declare a climate emergency and use the Defense Production Act — designed for wartime use — to increase production of defense products and systems. renewable energy, including solar panels.
Merkley tweeted: “[Biden] must go big on climate – starting with declaring a climate emergency so we can take bold action NOW on the disastrous impacts of climate chaos on our health, environment and economy.
Whitehouse, who has called for tougher carbon regulations for vehicles and power plants and possible federal litigation against the fossil fuel industry, told reporters: “I spoke to the White House about the ability to take offense, to be aggressive and to do whatever it is within the executive powers to do so, that has not been done so far.
The stark contrast between political inaction and catastrophic global warming has led some to question whether US government institutions are fit for purpose. David Axelrod, a former Barack Obama strategist, tweeted: “We fiddle while the world burns.”
Biden has tried to signal to voters that he is tackling global warming at a time when some supporters have despaired over the lack of progress. He pledged to move forward on his own in the absence of congressional action.
Jared Bernstein, a White House economic adviser, told reporters, “The president will fight aggressively to tackle climate change because he knows it’s one of the reasons he’s here. And it’s absolutely essential to get from where we are to where we need to be.
Manchin and Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader in the Senate, had discussed $300 billion in tax credits for industries such as solar and wind energy, carbon capture from power plants and nuclear energy, which generates virtually emission-free electricity. Manchin blamed inflation for his rejection of spending on climate legislation.
Activists have warned that time is running out for the United States to reduce emissions and encourage other countries to do the same. Scientists say inaction will lead to ‘irreversible’ impacts such as heat waves, floods, wildfires and a mass uprising of displaced people.
Ben King, associate director of the Rhodium Group, an independent research firm, told the AP that the United States was “nowhere near” meeting Biden’s targets for reducing emissions.
Biden has raised the US goal of reducing emissions from 50% to 52% below 2005 levels by 2030. Under policies in place at the federal and state level, the US is on track to achieve a reduction of 24% to 35%, according to the Rhodium Group.
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