President Joe Biden said Wednesday that climate
change is a national emergency, but declined to use his executive authority
to formally recognize it as one.
During a visit to a former coal plant in Massachusetts,
Biden said climate change is “a clear and present danger. The health of
our citizens and our communities is literally at stake.”
“This is an emergency, and I’m going to look at it that
way,” Biden said.
But the president did not invoke the National Emergency Act,
which would free up federal resources to combat climate change, as a pair of
Oregon lawmakers had urged him to do earlier in the week.
The president instead announced $2.3 billion toward infrastructure projects to
protect against extreme weather events like floods, fires and more. Biden also
approved $385 million to fund more cooling centers and provide air-conditioning
to more Americans, as extreme heat bears down on some parts of the country.
With his larger climate plan stalled in Congress, Biden said
he will announce more executive actions in the coming weeks.
Katherine Morgan wipes sweat from her forehead while walking
to work during a record-breaking heat wave in Portland in 2021. President Biden
described climate change as a “national emergency” on Wednesday but
did not unlock a formal federal response as Oregon Democrats had hoped.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer and Sen. Jeff Merkley, both Oregon Democrats, were the lead
authors on letters sent Tuesday requesting the president to exercise his powers
under the NEA. The lawmakers each welcomed Biden’s remarks while doubling down
on the need for an emergency declaration.
Blumenauer has advocated for declaring a climate emergency
since the Trump administration, when he first introduced legislation to do so.
The formal declaration, Blumenauer said, grants the
president more latitude to boost domestic manufacturing of energy products,
build and deploy infrastructure, and more.
“It unlocks other tools that are available from the
federal government,” Blumenauer said in an interview with OPB. “And
that’s frankly what we need to do. It looks very unlikely that we’re going to
get sweeping climate legislation through the U.S. Senate.”
Biden’s press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, has said an
emergency declaration is not off the table but that such an announcement won’t
come this week.
“I’m glad to hear President Biden call climate chaos an
emergency – now it’s time for him to use his power to declare a national
climate emergency under the National Emergency Act!” Merkley said on
Twitter. “We can’t afford not to go big on climate action.”
The president also announced Tuesday more investment in
offshore wind energy development on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. The Biden
administration is already targeting sites off the Oregon Coast for offshore
Earlier this year, Biden signed another executive
order to protect old and mature forests in the interest of fire
resilience and carbon storage.