President Biden holds off on climate emergency declaration, will travel to Massachusetts

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden will travel to Massachusetts on Wednesday to promote new efforts to address climate change, though he will not declare an emergency that would free up federal resources to address the problem, despite mounting pressure from climate activists and Democratic lawmakers.

The White House said Tuesday it had not ruled out the possibility of later making such a statement, which would allow the president to divert funds to climate action without Congressional approval. On Wednesday, Biden will announce more new climate action when he visits a former coal-fired power plant in Somerset, Massachusetts, that closed in 2017 but has since been reborn as an offshore wind turbine.

But since Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., took a pause in negotiations on climate spending and taxes last week, public attention has shifted to a presidential emergency declaration and what the Biden administration is doing with the newfound powers could.

“It’s not on the table this week,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said of a climate emergency declaration. “We’re still thinking about it. I don’t know the pros or cons.”

The President has tried to send a signal to Democratic voters that he is aggressively tackling global warming, while some of his supporters have despaired at the lack of progress. He has promised to move forward alone in the absence of congressional action.

Declaring a climate emergency would be similar to that of former President Donald Trump pushing ahead with building a southern border wall. It would allow Biden to redirect spending to accelerate renewable energy like wind and solar power and accelerate the nation’s transition away from fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas. The declaration could also be used as a legal basis to block oil and gas drilling or other projects, although such measures would likely be challenged in court by energy companies or Republican-led states.

The focus on climate action comes amid a heatwave that has scorched parts of Europe, with Britain reaching its highest-ever temperature in a country ill-prepared for such extreme weather.

The typically temperate nation has recently been hit by unusually hot, dry weather that has sparked wildfires from Portugal to the Balkans and resulted in hundreds of heat-related deaths. Images of flames hurtling towards a French beach and Britons smoldering – even by the sea – have sparked concerns about climate change.

The president vowed late last week to take vigorous executive action on climate change after Manchin — who has wielded disproportionate influence over Biden’s legislative agenda due to the razor-thin majority of Senate Democrats in the Senate — hit the brakes on negotiations for proposals for new environmental programs and higher taxes for wealthy people and companies.

Manchin, one of the biggest supporters of fossil fuels within the Democratic Group, has blamed persistently high inflation for his reluctance to join another spending package. His opposition has infuriated other Democrats in Congress, who have increased pressure on Biden to act on climate himself.

“I think given the global crisis we’re facing, given Congress’ inability to address this existential threat, I think the White House needs to use all the resources and tools it can,” Senator Bernie Sanders said . I-Vt. In a climate emergency, “that’s something I called for a long time ago.”

Biden, who has served in the Senate for more than three decades, “is chained to the legislative process and has been reflecting on his past as a senator,” Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., said at a news conference Monday night. “Now he’s unleashed and has to go.”

John Podesta, executive chairman of the liberal Center for American Progress, said environmental leaders met with senior White House officials on Friday to discuss policy ideas. Some proposals included tightening regulations on vehicle emissions and power plants, reinstating a ban on crude oil exports and suspending new oil well leases on state land and waters.

“If it’s going to deliver on its commitments to do whatever it takes to cut emissions, it needs to be mindful of the critical regulatory issues it faces,” said Podesta, a former climate adviser to President Barack Obama.

Ben King, an associate director at Rhodium Group, an independent research firm, said the United States is “nowhere near” to meet ambitious emissions reduction targets set by Biden.

Biden raised the country’s emissions reduction target to at least 50% below 2005 levels by 2030. Rhodium said the U.S. is on track to achieve 24% to 35% reductions under current federal and state policies, according to The Latest Analysis of the group.

“Without meaningful policy action, we are a long way from achieving the goals that the US committed to under the Paris Agreement,” King said, referring to a 2015 global conference on tackling climate change.

Even as Democrats and environmental groups urged Biden to act on his own, some legal scholars questioned whether a declaration of a climate emergency was warranted.

“Emergency powers are designed for events like terrorist attacks, epidemics, and natural disasters,” said Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Freedom and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.

Such powers “are not intended to address ongoing problems, no matter how bad. And they’re not meant to bypass Congress,” Goitein wrote in an op-ed for The Washington Post last year.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. President Biden holds off on climate emergency declaration, will travel to Massachusetts

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