Democratic senators call on Biden to use ‘full powers of the executive branch’ on climate

Democratic senators call on Biden to use ‘full powers of the executive branch’ on climate

By:  Zack Budryk

Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) on Monday called on President Biden to use "the full powers of the executive branch" on climate, following Sen. Joe Manchin's (D-W.Va.) declaration that he would not back climate spending in a reconciliation bill. 

Speaking to reporters at the Capitol on Monday, Merkley called on Biden to explore options ranging from declaring a national emergency on climate to continued use of the Defense Production Act.

He also called for "an end to greenlighting new fossil fuel projects and a beginning to greenlighting every possible renewable energy project, from manufacturing solar panels to the deployment of renewable energy to energy conservation." 

The senators remarks came as the White House is actively considering a national emergency declaration on climate change after negotiations failed. A source told The Hill the announcement could come as soon as Wednesday.

Whitehouse told reporters that among climate hawks in Congress who are ready for "really broad, robust, rapid executive action," there is a sense of "relief" that the ball is in the president's court on the issue. The Rhode Island senator, a onetime state attorney general, also called on the executive branch to lend the Justice Department’s backing to existing litigation against major oil companies.

 "If I were advising the president, I’d advise him to make specific reference to the tobacco litigation for fraud … that the DOJ won, in a thumping victory," Whitehouse said. "And that seems to me to be a pretty good model for at least investigating whether such a case could be brought against the decades of misrepresentation by the fossil fuel industry, and its armada of prominent front groups." 

Whitehouse also offered a blunt assessment of White House climate adviser Gina McCarthy, saying that while she had not been "unleashed" in her executive capacity yet, "you’re looking at a record of rebooting the Obama social cost of carbon but neither raising it nor expanding it; getting only one carbon regulation done, and not a particularly strong one at that; having no visible international conversation about carbon pricing or carbon tariffs; have been a lot of regulations from other agencies bottled up in [the Office of Management and Budget]; failing to marshal the bully pulpit." 

Whitehouse and Merkley both called on Biden to approach the climate crisis in a manner akin to World War II, with Whitehouse calling on the president to "pick your Eisenhower" to lead executive climate action. 

When the White House charts a clear path on executive climate action, Merkley added, "there’s going to be a cheer that you’ll be able to hear a mile down Pennsylvania Avenue, as people have been preparing for that possibility."