Now that Joe Manchin has once again pulled the rug out from under him, essentially nixing the possibility of getting any climate legislation through for the near future, Joe Biden is under pressure to do whatever he can through executive action to combat climate change. Democrats have renewed calls on Biden to take “Forceful, firm, and wide-ranging” action on the environment in recent days – and the president appears ready to do just that, with White House officials telling reporters that he could declare a climate emergency as soon as this week.
“I think realistically there is a lot he can do and there is a lot he will do,” senior White House economic adviser Jared Bernstein said at a press conference Monday. “The president will aggressively fight to attack climate change because he knows it’s one of the reasons he’s here. And it is absolutely core to transitioning from where we are to where we need to be. ”
The Washington Post reported Tuesday that Biden appears to be readying to act, with an emergency declaration that could come as soon as this week and several other executive actions to curb emissions also on the way. It’s unclear what the full scope of the action would include, and a White House official told the Mail that no final decisions had been made. But, the official said, the “president made clear that if the Senate does not act to tackle the climate crisis and strengthen our domestic clean energy industry, he will.”
The news comes during a global flashpoint around climate change, including with deadly heat waves in the United States that have strained Texas’ power grid and in Europe that sent temperatures in the United Kingdom to record highs of over 40 degrees Celsius Tuesday. Unprecedented wildfires have also spread across southern Europe, as well as the US state of Alaska.
Manchin, the conservative West Virginia Democrat who has thwarted several of the president’s legislative priorities, abruptly told party leaders last week that he would not support any new climate spending for now, citing concerns about inflation. That stunning about-face, after months of negotiations, almost certainly doomed the potential for new environmental legislation this term, which could represent the last opportunity for the foreseeable future to do so, should the GOP take back Capitol in the midterms. It was a devastating blow to the fledgling effort to address the climate crisis, and came weeks after the right-wing Supreme Court hamstrung the Environmental Protection Agency’s administrative authority to regulate emissions.
If the United States, the world’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gasses, is to have a chance of holding to its climate goals, including the global effort to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, it’s almost certainly up to Biden now. Some Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, have been calling for him to declare a climate emergency since the beginning of his presidency, but he has appeared to hold out hope that lawmakers could work out a legislative compromise. Now, though, “he’s been left with no other choice,” as Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse wrote last week.
“The executive path must proceed now with speed and vigor,” Whitehouse said said.
An emergency declaration would unlock broader executive powers to address the issue, including the authority to use congressional funds to curb emissions and support renewable energy. There are also risks, political and legal, depending on how far the administration goes: As the Mail points out, more aggressive action could cut against Biden’s efforts to bring down gas prices ahead of the November midterms, and could invite legal challenges that could further undercut future climate policy. The latter has led to concern among some Democrats, who are trying to keep the door open to legislation. “While I strongly support additional executive action by President Biden, we know a flood of Republican lawsuits will follow,” Senator Ron Wyden told the Mail. “Legislation continues to be the best option here. The climate crisis is the issue of our time and we should keep our options open. ”
The fear of lawsuits is well-founded, especially given the high court’s demonstrated hostility to the administrative state. But the costs of inaction or half-measures is already becoming frighteningly apparent. “During his campaign, [Biden] promised bold climate action, ”Democratic Senator Jeff Merkeley wrote Monday. “Now’s the time to make good on that promise.”