President Biden’s failure to declare an official national emergency on climate change to unlock a variety of additional executive powers has frustrated environmentalists and green advocates in his own party.
In the face of congressional gridlock and a recent Supreme Court setback, Democrats on Capitol Hill and environmental activists want Mr. Biden to exert his maximum authority when it comes to tackling climate change.
His announcement on Wednesday fell far short of declaring an emergency, featuring relatively minor steps on climate change that were extensions of previous actions. His three-pronged plan included expanding offshore wind energy, aid to low-income families for energy costs and help for communities to prepare against natural disasters.
“This can is well kicked,” said Rep. Jared Huffman, California Democrat who for months has called on Mr. Biden to declare a climate emergency. “I know that there are moments where moderation seems to be the prevailing sensibility. I don’t think this climate crisis really lends itself to that. If we believe what we say about this, we’ve just got to get much, much more serious about it.”
Kat Maier, national coordinator of Fridays for Future, the youth-led international climate group formed by activist Greta Thunberg, didn’t sugarcoat her frustration.
“It’s great to see Biden taking action and calling it a code red again — but he called climate an emergency without declaring a climate emergency. We’re so sick of empty promises and lack of action,” she said.
Speaking Wednesday at a shuttered coal-fired power plant in Somerset, Massachusetts, that will soon be used for clean energy, Mr. Biden said that “since Congress is not acting as it should … this is an emergency.”
But he avoided declaring an emergency under the National Emergencies Act (NEA) or invoking the Defense Production Act to spur new federal action on clean energy. Instead, he laid out his immediate modest steps and vowed that more was soon to come.
Evergreen Action Executive Director Jamal Raad said the “time for speeches is over, it’s time for concrete action.”
Dozens of Democrats on Capitol Hill circulated two separate letters this week in conjunction with Mr. Biden’s announcement calling on him to go further.
A group of Democratic senators said the “climate crisis is one of the biggest emergencies that our country has ever faced and time is running out.”
“Under the NEA, you could redirect spending to build out renewable energy systems on military bases, implement large-scale clean transportation solutions and finance distributed energy projects to boost climate resiliency,” they wrote. “We urge you to act boldly, declare this crisis the national emergency that it is, and embark upon bold regulatory and administrative action.”
SEE ALSO: Biden unveils executive action on climate change but stops far short of declaring national emergency
Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Earl Blumenauer of Oregon led a similar letter in the House.
“We urge you to act boldly, treating this like the emergency it is, by declaring a national climate emergency,” it read.
The position of wanting a climate emergency was fringe within the party just months ago as lawmakers held out hope for a legislative solution. But it’s since become mainstream among Democrats in the wake of major setbacks to the president’s green agenda.
Last week, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia torpedoed new spending on climate provisions that were being negotiated as part of a broader party-line government funding bill.
Last month, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority slashed the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulatory power over reducing greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
“Acting quickly is really critical,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, Washington Democrat and chair of the Progressive Caucus. “Even if [the administration] does the right thing, sometimes it takes so long that you’ve lost people’s belief that you understand the urgency of the moment.”
The White House has dodged questions about what is holding the president back from taking the sort of far-reaching action that Democrats and environmentalists demand.
But climate is an issue that is barely a blip on the radar of the vast majority of voters, many of whom are dissatisfied with the president’s handling of the economy.
A recent New York Times/Sienna College poll showed that just 1% of voters view climate change as the most important issue, while a combined 35% said it’s either the economy or inflation, which is at a 40-year-high.
In a midterm election year where Democrats face strong headwinds and are poised to lose at least one chamber of Congress, Ms. Jayapal argued that climate action could breathe life into a crucial cohort of voters for Democrats: their base.
“Our biggest category of swing voters that we should be worried about is our base. Our young people, our folks of color, they’re not going to swing and vote for Republicans, but they will swing right out of the couch,” she said.
• Ramsey Touchberry can be reached at email@example.com.
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