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Climate campaigners demanded an end to fossil fuels as President Joe Biden visited communities in New York and New Jersey hit by the remnants of Hurricane Ida on September 7, 2021. (Photo: Alex Beauchamp/Food & Water Watch)

As Biden Tours Ida Damage, Protesters Demand End to Fossil Fuels

"It's time President Biden doubled down on his campaign commitments to end our reliance on fossil fuels by stopping the leasing of public lands for fossil fuel extraction and halting the construction of fossil fuel infrastructure projects."

Jessica Corbett

When President Joe Biden on Tuesday toured communities in New York and New Jersey devastated by the remnants of Hurricane Ida last week, he was greeted by protesters pointing to the deadly storm as just the latest proof of the need to immediately phase out fossil fuels.

"Fossil fuels are destroying our climate with direct impacts in our own backyard," said Food & Water Watch Northeast region director Alex Beauchamp in a statement. "It's time President Biden doubled down on his campaign commitments to end our reliance on fossil fuels by stopping the leasing of public lands for fossil fuel extraction and halting the construction of fossil fuel infrastructure projects."

Despite Biden's promises to ban new oil and gas leasing on public lands and waters, his administration has resumed lease sales, in compliance with a federal court order—eliciting intense criticism from climate campaigners who argue that the world can't afford any more fossil fuel extraction. "No fossil fuels!" demonstrators chanted Tuesday. "Biden, keep your promise!"

The activists in New York and New Jersey also called for action by the states' Democratic governors, Kathy Hochul and Phil Murphy.

Hochul "must do her part to end the fossil fuel projects like the NRG Astoria plant moving forward mere blocks from Biden's visit today, to ensure New York doesn't bring any more disastrous fossil fuel projects onto the grid," said Beauchamp. "The fossil fuel age is over—our leaders must commit real action to moving us into an era of clean energy."

Tuesday's demonstrations included members of Food & Water Watch, New York Communities for Change, and other organizations.

Some demonstrators drew attention to a specific project that Biden has been blasted for not blocking: Enbridge's Line 3 tar sands pipeline.

Several progressive congresswomen joined Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) in Minnesota over the weekend to meet with Indigenous water protectors leading the fight against Line 3. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) had planned to join in before her district was hit by Ida.

In the wake of destructive flooding across the Northeast, Ocasio-Cortez has repeatedly linked Ida to the fossil fuel-driven climate emergency.

The president on Tuesday acknowledged Ida in the context of the climate emergency when appearing with New Jersey officials, according to NPR.

"For decades, scientists have warned that extreme weather would be more extreme and climate change was here. And we're living through it now," he said. "We don't have any more time."

"Every part of the country is getting hit by extreme weather. And we're now living in real time what the country's going to look like," Biden added. "We can't turn it back very much, but we can prevent it from getting worse."

As part of Democrats' efforts to advance climate policy and Biden's Build Back Better agenda, federal lawmakers are working to pass a $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package—but with an evenly divided Senate, every member of the party, including right-wingers like Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), will need to support the final measure in the upper chamber.

Democrats' control of the House is also narrow, and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said Tuesday that "there is no flexibility" on the price tag for the climate and social spending plan because she cares "about delivering on these benefits."

As The Guardian reported Tuesday, Biden will have to "referee" Democrats who disagree over the size and scope of the reconciliation package, which party leaders are aiming to pass this month.

According to Ellen Sciales, communications director of the youth-led Sunrise Movement, "President Biden's visit to the site of climate disasters today makes clear that he wants to be the Climate President, but now we must ask—is he willing to let Joe Manchin stand in the way of his legacy?"

"The Build Back Better agenda he's proposed is the bare minimum of what is needed for history to judge this presidency in any sort of positive light," she said. "Biden must do everything in his power—from using his bully pulpit to moving members of his party—to pass at least a $3.5 trillion dollar reconciliation package. He can begin to stop this endless suffering, if he chooses to."

Sciales, whose family home flooded because of Ida last week, also warned that "if Biden does not deliver on at least a $3.5 trillion investment through budget reconciliation, while he has a potentially fleeting Democratic majority, future generations will ask why he didn't do more when we still had the chance."

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