Should Biden declare a national climate emergency?

What an emergency declaration on climate change can and can't do

Joe Biden
(Image credit: Illustrated | Gettyimages)

With Congress stalled, President Biden is under pressure from Democratic lawmakers and environmental activists to tackle the climate crisis via executive action — more specifically, by declaring a national climate emergency. Though the president did not move on such a decision in time for a major speech on Wednesday, the White House has not ruled out the option entirely. "The climate emergency is not going to happen tomorrow but we still have it on the table," White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Tuesday. "Everything is on the table. It's just not going to be this week on that decision." Here's everything you need to know:

Why is Biden considering an emergency declaration?

Declaring a national climate emergency would allow the president to "tap new powers and pots of money in his administration's efforts to curb climate-warming emissions," The Washington Post writes. It would be similar to what Donald Trump did in 2019, when the former president declared a national emergency at the nation's southern border so as to build a wall between Mexico and the U.S. An emergency declaration could also be used "as a legal basis to block oil and gas drilling or other projects, although such actions would likely be challenged in court by energy companies or Republican-led states," adds The Associated Press.

Though he prefers Congress to act in such instances, Biden is considering tapping into his toolbox now that Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has single-handedly blocked his climate agenda from moving forward. Manchin blames record-high inflation for his reluctance toward another spending package, which Democrats can only pass with his support, AP writes. Though the coal state senator has now agreed to an extremely slimmed-down reconciliation package, focused solely on reducing the cost of prescription drugs and bolstering certain health insurance subsidies, the bill's climate provisions have been promptly axed. It's possible the initiatives will be resurrected in separate legislation later in the year, but there's no way to be certain at this point.

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When might Biden make a declaration?

The timeline of any impending decision is unclear, though it might arrive in the "coming weeks," the Post previously reported, noting Biden "himself pledged executive action on climate change last week," when Manchin's opposition became clear last week.

"My actions will create jobs, improve our energy security, bolster domestic manufacturing and supply chains, protect us from oil and gas price hikes in the future, and address climate change," Biden wrote in a statement on Friday. "I will not back down: The opportunity to create jobs and build a clean energy future is too important to relent."

Further, the president has been "eager to make an aggressive announcement," The New York Times summarizes, per two officials who said Biden was still hurting from accusations he moved too slowly to respond to the downfall of Roe v. Wade.

What are lawmakers and activists saying?

Activists have welcomed the possibility of a climate emergency — for example, over 1,000 environmental organizations have sent Biden a letter urging him to follow through, Bloomberg reports.

"There's really been a total lack of leadership in this country on climate," Jean Su of the Center for Biological Diversity told the Times. "It's time to get serious. This is the clarion call that we need from this country's leadership." And Moira Birss, climate and finance director at environmental group Amazon Watch, agreed: "We need this administration to do all the things, take all the steps," she told the Post.

And certain lawmakers, meanwhile, are not only pushing the White House to act, but also taking the opportunity to rail against Sen. Manchin, who they view as having an outsized and unfair influence over the administration.

"For too long, we have been waiting for a single piece of legislation, and a single Senate vote, to take bold action on our climate crisis," a group of Democratic senators, led by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Bernie Sanders (I.Vt.), wrote in a recent letter to Biden. "As a result, we urge you to put us on an emergency footing and aggressively use your executive powers to address the climate crisis."

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), co-author of the Green New Deal, also said he is "confident that the president is ultimately ready to do whatever it takes in order to deal with this crisis," per Bloomberg.

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Are there downsides to a climate emergency declaration?

Though some are excited by the prospect of an emergency declaration, others are still skeptical of the tactic.

Emergency powers "were never meant to address longstanding problems, no matter how serious, and they're certainly not meant to provide long-term solutions," Elizabeth Goitein of the Brennan Center told the Times.

Further, "any moves to halt oil and gas production could be politically disastrous for Biden, whose administration is working to lower high pump prices before midterm elections," Bloomberg writes. And that's without mentioning the almost-guaranteed legal challenges that are sure to follow.

What is the media saying?

The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board believes any such executive action on Biden's part would be hypocritical, considering the way Democrats reacted to Trump's border wall plan — "Apparently dictators are in the eye of the beholder" — and an "even greater abuse of power."

The New York Post Editorial Board agreed, describing the proposed move as "pure politics at the expense of democracy."

Further, while agreeing with Biden that yes, tackling climate change is top of mind, so are Americans' "shrinking wallets," added the Boston Herald Editorial Board. "Climate change is important — but it's not the only crisis affecting Americans."

Outside of the possible emergency declaration, is Biden planning any other climate initiatives?


During his speech in Massachusetts on Wednesday, the president announced executive actions targeting "the domestic offshore wind industry, home energy assistance for low-income residents, and funding to protect communities facing extreme heat," NBC News reports. He had also previously invoked the Defense Production Act to "boost lithium mining for electric vehicles and to ramp up domestic manufacturing of solar panel parts and other clean energy equipment," the Post adds.

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