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Environmentalists protest outside the White House

Indigenous leaders and other environmentalists demonstrate outside the White House on October 13, 2021. (Photo: Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

'No More Time to Lose': Biden Rebuked for Pushing Off Climate Emergency Declaration

"The clock is rapidly ticking towards inevitable, irreversible climate catastrophe," said one climate campaigner.

Jake Johnson

The White House faced backlash from climate advocates on Wednesday after it confirmed that President Joe Biden won't be declaring a climate emergency during his speech at a former coal-fired power plant in Massachusetts, remarks that will come as swaths of the Northern Hemisphere are grappling with punishing heatwaves and wildfires.

Following reports that Biden was considering declaring a national climate emergency as soon as Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Tuesday that the move is not, in fact, coming this week—if at all.

"To maintain reasonable hope of achieving a livable planet for future generations, we must halt new fossil fuel development now."

"Everything is on the table," she added. "It's just not going to be this week on that decision."

While omitting the climate emergency declaration that progressive lawmakers and climate campaigners have been demanding for months, the president is expected in his afternoon speech Wednesday to announce other new executive policy moves aimed at combating planetary warming and assisting communities ravaged by it.

The president is slated to speak at the former coal power plant—which is being converted to an offshore wind power facility—at 2:45 pm ET.

According to The Washington Post, Biden is planning to "direct federal funds toward communities facing extreme heat, while taking new executive action to boost domestic offshore wind production."

Such measures are a far cry from the sweeping and urgent response that experts and activists say is needed from the federal government, particularly after Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) struck a likely fatal blow to hopes of swift congressional action on runaway greenhouse gas emissions.

Environmentalists have also been dismayed by recent indications that the Biden administration could move ahead with new offshore oil and gas drilling as global temperatures continue to soar, rendering parts of the planet—including some U.S. cities—increasingly unlivable.

"In the midst of shocking and unprecedented heatwaves, wildfires, and drought in America, Europe, and across the globe, President Biden has failed to meaningfully act on climate," Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, said in a statement Wednesday. "Evidence from the last decade clearly shows that promoting cleaner energy while still advancing new fossil fuel projects will not reduce climate pollution."

"The science is clear: To maintain reasonable hope of achieving a livable planet for future generations, we must halt new fossil fuel development now," Hauter added. "Biden must declare a climate emergency, ban crude oil exports, and halt new fossil fuel infrastructure, including pipelines and export terminals. The clock is rapidly ticking towards inevitable, irreversible climate catastrophe. There is no more time to lose."

A climate emergency declaration would empower the president to direct federal resources toward renewable energy projects aimed at accelerating the nation's shift away from fossil fuels, a transition that is well behind schedule.

The move would also allow Biden to take a number of additional steps without congressional approval, from halting U.S. oil exports to cutting off new fossil fuel leasing on federal lands and waters.

"We've been unable to make progress when it comes to climate change legislation, but the president could change that overnight by finally declaring a Climate National Emergency," Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) tweeted Tuesday. "Let's do it now."

Advocates stressed that a national emergency declaration—a step former President Donald Trump took in a ploy to funnel money toward construction of a border wall—can't be the end of the road for executive climate action.

Fossil Free Media noted in a statement Tuesday that "in order for a climate emergency declaration to be effective, the administration must use its authority under this executive action to directly target and reduce the use of fossil fuels."

"By declaring a climate emergency," the group said, "President Biden could unlock a series of executive authorities that could have a major impact on driving down emissions and protecting communities from the impacts of fossil fuel development and climate disasters."

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