Blumenauer, Merkley urge Biden to declare national climate emergency

Blumenauer, Merkley urge Biden to declare national climate emergency

President Joe Biden approved funding to aid communities battling heat and extreme weather but declined to declare a national climate emergency.

By:  Bradley W. Parks

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 wind.

Earlier this year, Biden signed another executive order to protect old and mature forests in the interest of fire resilience and carbon storage.