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Cori Bush oustide White House

U.S. Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo), speaks at a "No Climate, No Deal" rally in Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C. on June 28, 2021. (Photo: Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

House Progressives Call On Biden to Declare a Climate Emergency—Now

"Your inaction," Rep. Cori Bush warned the president, "is undermining our efforts to deliver good jobs, environmental justice, and a renewable energy future."

Jessica Corbett

Echoing the demands of demonstrators who were arrested outside the White House throughout last week, Congresswoman Cori Bush led a dozen other progressive lawmakers Friday in pressuring President Joe Biden to block fossil fuel projects and immediately declare a climate emergency.

"Ongoing actions by your administration threaten to undermine our shared goal to further climate, racial, and economic justice."

While praising the president's commitments to climate action and serving frontline communities, the 13 House Democrats sent Biden a letter to express their "grave concern that ongoing actions by your administration threaten to undermine our shared goal to further climate, racial, and economic justice."

The lawmakers specifically raise alarm about the administration's "ongoing support for fossil fuel infrastructure, pipelines, and leases, including through government subsidies," warning that such activity "jeopardizes the lives and livelihoods of our community members, and it undoubtedly undercuts the hard-fought investments we've secured for our districts."

As Bush (D-Mo.) put it in a Friday tweet: "You have the power to stop fossil fuel expansion and halt dangerous pipelines now. Now is the time to use it."

The letter draws attention to pollution driving up asthma rates, deaths in Cancer Alley, and calls to block projects such as the Spire, Dakota Access, and Line 3 pipelines. Noting the police violence, pollution, and treaty violations that have occurred throughout construction, the letter argues that "the mistakes and failures that allowed Line 3 and other pipelines to proceed must not be repeated."

The lawmakers put forth a list of five key demands for the president: direct agencies to deny permits for all fossil fuel infrastructure, ban leasing and drilling on federal lands, end fossil fuel exports, work with Congress on a just transition program, and declare a climate emergency.

Along with Bush, the letter was signed by Democratic Reps. Jamaal Bowman (N.Y.), Adriano Espaillat (N.Y.), Jesus "Chuy" Garcia (Ill.), Mondaire Jones (N.Y.), Barbara Lee (Calif.), Jim McGovern (Mass.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (Minn.), and Ayanna Pressley (Mass.), Rashida Tlaib (Mich.), Ritchie Torres (N.Y.), and Bonnie Watson Coleman (N.J.).

The letter came just before a rally in solidarity with hunger strikers for climate action outside the White House and as the administration and Congress continue to negotiate the Build Back Better budget reconciliation legislation.

The pacakge was designed to deliver on some of Biden's promises to cut planet-heating emissions but may be at risk due to a few right-wing Democrats backed by the fossil fuel industry and other corporate interests.

The new demands from House progressives also come as the Build Back Fossil Free coalition is planning to bring its campaign to the COP 26 climate talks, set to begin at the end of the month in Glasgow, Scotland. Members of the coalition welcomed the congressional letter and reiterated their expectations of the president in a joint statement Friday.

"Biden has immense executive powers to speed the end of the fossil fuel era and ignite a just, renewable-energy revolution with millions of good-paying union jobs," said Jean Su, energy justice director and a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. "We're calling on the president to reclaim his power from coal- and gas-state senators and follow through as the climate president he promised to be ahead of the U.N. climate talks in Glasgow."

While Food & Water Watch organizing director Emily Wurth emphasized that "the science is very clear" and noted the president's campaign promises, Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network warned that "any COP 26 climate pledges presented by the Biden administration will ring hollow if the president doesn't stop major projects like the Line 3 tar sands pipeline, oil drilling in the Arctic, fossil fuel exports, and continues to allow drilling, mining, and fracking to continue on Native and public lands."

Last week's protests outside the White House were "just the beginning," vowed John Beard, founder and CEO of the Port Arthur Community Action Network. "It's truly 'people vs. fossil fuels,' and people must prevail."

"The Biden administration is heading to Glasgow with a clear mandate from the American people: 'Build Back Better' and 'Build Back Fossil Free,'" Beard added. "We are proud to rise with Rep. Cori Bush and 12 of her colleagues in Congress in our efforts to show that the clearest way for Biden to salvage his climate agenda ahead of COP 26 is to announce that he is declaring a climate emergency and stopping the federal approval of fossil fuel projects."

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