President Joe Biden, thwarted by lawmakers and the Supreme Court, sought Wednesday (20 July) to revive his ambitions to tackle climate change as heat waves batter the United States and Europe.
Rocketing summer temperatures have highlighted the growing threat, with 100 million people in the United States currently under excessive heat alerts and devastatingly hot conditions causing misery across Europe.
“Climate change… is literally, not figuratively, a clear and present danger,” Biden said, announcing executive actions including $2.3 billion in investments to help build US infrastructure to withstand climate disasters.
“The health of our citizens and our communities is literally at stake… Our national security is at stake as well… And our economy is at risk. So we have to act.”
Biden, delivering a speech at a former coal-fired electricity plant in Massachusetts, said his administration would do whatever necessary, with or without lawmakers on board.
“Congress is not acting as it should… This is an emergency and I will look at it that way. As president, I’ll use my executive powers to combat the climate crisis,” he said.
But he stopped short of declaring a formal climate emergency, which would grant him additional policy powers. Upon his return home, when asked about the emergency designation, Biden told reporters: “I will make that decision soon.”
Biden began his term last year promising to fulfill campaign pledges to tackle the global climate crisis, but his agenda has faced blow after blow.
His first day in office, Biden signed an executive order to bring the United States back into the Paris climate agreement, followed later by an ambitious announcement that he was targeting a 50-52% reduction from 2005 levels in US net greenhouse gas pollution by 2030.
But his signature Build Back Better legislation, which would have included $550 billion for clean energy and other climate initiatives, is all but dead after failing to receive the necessary backing in Congress as fellow Democrat Joe Manchin said he would not support the bill in a evenly divided Senate.
And last month, the conservative-leaning Supreme Court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cannot issue broad greenhouse gas regulations without congressional approval.
“When it comes to fighting climate change, I will not take ‘no’ for an answer,” Biden said.
“I will do everything in my power to clean our air and water, protect our people’s heath, to win the clean energy future… Our children and grandchildren are counting on us. Not a joke.”
Among the new executive orders was funding to promote efficient air conditioning, and an order to advance wind energy development off the Atlantic Coast and Florida’s Gulf Coast.
The Biden administration has framed climate policies as a job creation project — and as a national security issue, made more urgent by soaring fuel prices in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The White House said in a statement that Biden was seeking “to turn the climate crisis into an opportunity, by creating good-paying jobs in clean energy and lowering costs for families.”
His speech on Wednesday was at a shuttered coal-fired power plant that will be used for a cable manufacturing factory to supply offshore wind facilities.
State Department spokesman Ned Price this week pointed to the extreme heat wave tormenting Europe this week — with Britain recording a temperature of 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius) — as more proof that climate action cannot wait.
“We are committed to taking advantage of this moment and doing everything we can, including on the world stage,” Price told reporters, “to ensure that this decisive decade does not go by without us taking appropriate action.”
*first published in: www.euractiv.com