SOMERSET, Mass. — (AP) — President Joe Biden on Wednesday announced modest new steps to tackle climate change and promised more robust action to come, saying, “It’s an emergency and I’m going to see it that way. “
The president, however, has stopped declaring a formal climate emergency, which Democrats and environmental groups have been seeking after a leading Democratic senator dashed hopes for sweeping legislation to tackle global warming. Biden hinted that such a step could happen.
“Let me be clear: climate change is an emergency,” Biden said. He pledged to use his power as president “to turn those words into official official actions of government through appropriate proclamations, executive orders, and the regulatory power possessed by a president.”
When it comes to climate change, he added, “I won’t take no for an answer.”
Biden kept his promise at a former coal-fired power plant in Massachusetts. The former Brayton Point power plant in Somerset, Massachusetts, is turning its attention to manufacturing offshore wind power, and Biden has chosen it as the epitome of the clean energy transition he seeks but would he struggled to achieve in the first 18 months of his presidency.
Executive actions announced Wednesday will bolster the nation’s offshore wind industry in the Gulf of Mexico and southeast, and spend $2.3 billion to help communities cope with soaring temperatures through programs administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Health and Human Services, and other agencies.
The trip comes as historic temperatures bake in Europe and the United States. Wildfires raged in Spain and France, and Britain on Tuesday broke its record for the highest temperature on record. At least 100 million Americans will face heat advisories in the coming days as cities across the United States sweat through more intense and longer-lasting heat waves that scientists attribute to global warming.
Calls for a national emergency declaration to address the climate crisis have grown among Democratic activists and lawmakers after Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., scuttled talks on a long-running legislative package last week. delayed.
Biden said Wednesday the option remains under consideration. “I set the traps on all the authority I have,” he told reporters after returning to Washington. “Unless Congress acts in the meantime, I can do more,” on the climate, he said. “Because not enough is being done now.”
Biden said he was told part of his proposed climate legislation remains “in play,” but he acknowledged he did not speak to Manchin.
Gina McCarthy, Biden’s climate adviser, said Biden isn’t shy about treating the climate as an emergency. “The president wants to make sure we’re doing it right, that we’re putting it in place, and that we have the time we need to fix this,” she told reporters on Air Force One.
Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., who attended Wednesday’s event, said he was “confident that the president is finally ready to do whatever it takes to deal with this crisis.”
Environmental groups were less optimistic. “The world is burning from California to Croatia, and right now Biden is fighting the fire with the net of a garden hose,” said Jean Su, director of the energy justice program at the Center for Biological Diversity.
A climate emergency declaration would allow Biden to redirect federal resources to bolster renewable energy programs that would help accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels such as coal and oil. The statement could also be used as a legal basis to block oil and gas drilling or other projects, though such actions are likely to be challenged in court by energy companies or Republican-run states.
Such a statement would be similar to one issued by Biden’s Republican predecessor, Donald Trump, who declared a national emergency to build a southern border wall when lawmakers refused to allocate funds for the effort. A federal appeals court later ruled that Trump’s action was unlawful.
Some legal scholars have said an emergency climate ordinance could suffer the same fate. Last month, the Supreme Court limited the power of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants that contribute to global warming.
Declaring a climate emergency “is a way to circumvent Congress and specifically Joe Manchin. That’s not what emergency powers are for,” said Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the freedom and national security program at Brennan. Center for Justice in New York. University School of Law.
Biden pledged major executive action on climate last week after months-long talks between Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., stalled. The West Virginia senator cited stubbornly high inflation as a reason for his hesitation, despite having long protected the energy interests of his coal and gas-producing state.
For now, Manchin said he would only agree to a limited legislative deal on health care and prescription drugs. The White House has indicated it wants Congress to accept the deal, and Biden will address the climate issue himself.
Biden toured the dusty grounds of the old Brayton Point power plant, which closed in 2017 after burning coal for more than five decades. The plant will now manufacture submarine transmission cables to deliver energy generated by offshore wind to the power grid.
A few dozen people listened in in the scorching sun as Biden spoke, including McCarthy, members of Congress and Biden’s climate envoy John Kerry, a former senator from Massachusetts.
A new report says the United States and other major carbon-polluting nations are failing to deliver on their promises to tackle climate change. Among the 10 biggest carbon emitters, only the European Union has adopted policies close to or in line with international targets to limit warming to a few tenths of a degree Celsius more, according to scientists and experts.
Daly reported from Washington.
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