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A home is engulfed in flames as the Dixie fire rages on in Greenville, California on August 5, 2021. (Photo: Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images)

New Report Details Exactly What Biden Could Do After Declaring 'Climate Emergency'

"The right and appropriate action is for the Biden administration to... declare a climate emergency to unlock the powers of government to respond boldly and effectively," said Sen. Jeff Merkley.

Jessica Corbett

Though the current state of the climate is a "code red for humanity," President Joe Biden "has the tools to lead a tectonic shift" in the U.S. response to the global crisis.

"This report demonstrates that the issue is not whether President Biden can make substantial progress on climate; the question is will he do so."

That's according to a report published Wednesday by the Center for Biological Diversity detailing what actions Biden could take after declaring a climate emergency.

"Declaring a climate emergency isn't a catchphrase, it's a vital suite of actions to protect people and the planet from this crisis," said report co-author Jean Su, director of the center's Energy Justice Program, in a statement.

"In the face of delayed climate legislation," Su said, "President Biden should use his tremendous executive powers to turn this emergency into an opportunity for profound economic and social transformation."

The report highlights that under the Defense Production Act, National Emergencies Act, and Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, Biden could:

  • Halt crude oil exports;
  • Stop oil and gas drilling in the outer continental shelf;
  • Restrict international trade and private investment in fossil fuels;
  • Grow domestic manufacturing for clean energy and transportation to speed the nationwide transition off fossil fuels; and
  • Build resilient and distributed renewable energy systems in climate-vulnerable communities.

"Congress enacted emergency powers to allow the executive branch greater flexibility to respond to extraordinary events," the report says. "The climate emergency is the pinnacle of extraordinary events faced in our lifetimes. Biden should lawfully use emergency powers to address this existential threat."

Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) joined with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) last February to unveil the National Climate Emergency Act, which calls on the president to make such a declaration and mobilize every resource available to tackle the crisis.

Since then, as scientists and other experts have continued to warn that fossil fuels must remain in the ground to limit global heating, activists and progressive lawmakers have pressured Biden to declare a climate emergency—including with a week of action outside the White House that led to hundreds of arrests.

"The scientists, experts, and all of our own lived experiences in the past few years make it clear: This is a climate emergency and it is past time to take action," Blumenauer said Wednesday.

"President Biden has worked to prioritize climate in the first year of his administration, but after years of practiced ignorance during the last administration and from congressional Republicans, more work remains to be done," he added. "This report, and my bill, chart the course."

"2022 is a clarion call for President Biden to become the Climate President," the report states, noting that "the indefinite abeyance of the Build Back Better Act may close the door on significant climate legislation under his administration's first term."

Largely thanks to Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), whom critics have blasted as a coal baron, that sweeping House-approved package stalled in the Senate with no signs that it will be revived.

However, the bill's apparent defeat "leaves open the vital and necessary pathway of taking bold executive action to beat back the defining emergency of the Biden presidency and of our time," the report argues. "Tepid climate policies and failure to act meaningfully are simply unacceptable."

"This report demonstrates that the issue is not whether President Biden can make substantial progress on climate; the question is will he do so," the document continues. "In this extraordinary moment of both crisis and opportunity, President Biden can and should use the immense emergency and ordinary powers at his disposal—but which he has not yet employed—to jettison the fossil-fuel economy and burgeon a just, anti-racist, and regenerative America in its place."

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), whose state endured a brutal heatwave and devastating wildfires last year, echoed that call for action, declaring Wednesday that "we are in the midst of a climate emergency—it is here and it is costing millions of lives and livelihoods."

"The impacts of climate chaos are affecting us all, with devastating fire seasons, increased heat-related deaths and illnesses, and more powerful and deadly storms," he said. "Climate chaos is undermining the pillars of rural economies—farming, forests, and fishing. And many of the impacts are felt disproportionately by poor communities and communities of color."

"Since this is a devastating emergency," the senator asserted, "the right and appropriate action is for the Biden administration to treat it as such and declare a climate emergency to unlock the powers of government to respond boldly and effectively."

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