If you think climate activists are fully satisfied now that Senator Joe Manchin (D-Coal) has agreed to support climate legislation, think again. Nope. Instead, several prominent voices for environmental protections continue to implore US President Joe Biden to declare a climate emergency.
The new legislative deal that targets tens of billions of dollars in green energy investments is nice, they say. It’s just not enough.
Sure, it’s great that the agreement supports more renewable energy manufacturing, penalizes methane pollution, and invests in electric vehicle production. But provisions within the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 also expand oil and gas drilling and potentially lock in future GHG emissions.
The activists say there’s still too much work to be done not to formalize the climate emergency with an executive declaration.
Prior to the surprising Manchin concession, President Biden was considering the option of announcing a climate emergency, a move that proponents say would unlock more key federal authorities and resources needed to accelerate the country’s renewable energy transition and slash carbon pollution.
In a speech on July 20 from Somerset, Massachusetts that he delivered from the site of a former coal-fired power station, Biden said:
“Congress has failed in its duty. Not a single Republican in Congress stepped up to support my Climate Plan. Not one. So let me be clear: Climate change is an emergency, and in the coming weeks I am going to use the power I have as president to turn these words into formal, official government actions through the appropriate proclamations, executive orders, and regulatory power that a president possesses.”
The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, a reduced version of Biden’s ambitious domestic agenda known as “Build Back Better,” has many sections earmarked for reducing carbon emissions and promoting clean energy. The $369 billion climate and tax package could have significant impacts on how US consumers move to EVs, where vehicles are manufactured, and the ways the country produces all kinds of energy. The legislation also has the intent to shatter China’s dominance over battery supply chains.
The talks between Manchin and Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) were driven by major concessions made to Manchin, according to the New York Times. Manchin demanded fewer tax increases, more fossil fuel development, and benefits for his home state.
NPR and other media outlets are now reporting that Manchin’s capitulation may be the end of Biden’s decision to call for a climate emergency. Indeed, many Democrats appear ecstatic about the bill, even as some of their priorities have been eliminated or significantly reduced.
Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), a leading proponent of climate change legislation, called the bill “$300 billion for clean energy investments.”
Senator Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey, said there was “a sense of joy that we’re really doing the most significant bill on climate change in the history of our country,” and joked that he rarely saw Senators enthusiastic about the prospect of weekend work.
Activists Continue to Call for Climate Emergency Proclamation
Not everyone is quite so satisfied.
Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, described the bill as a “climate suicide pact.” By linking renewable energy development to new oil and gas extraction, the bill “will fan the flames of the climate disasters torching our country, and it’s a slap in the face to the communities fighting to protect themselves from filthy fossil fuels.”
“No matter what,” said Hartl, “none of this should deter President Biden from declaring a climate emergency and taking bold executive action to address this crisis. More oil and gas leasing is completely incompatible with maintaining a livable planet, so we’re forced to fight this.”
“This deal is unacceptable,” Hartl concluded. “If it passes, we’ll fight every single lease the Interior Department tries to approve. Our climate and the health of our communities depend on it.”
The oil and gas industry, one of the most powerful corporate forces in American politics, has spent more than $200 million over the past year and a half to stop Congress from slashing carbon emissions. The ambitious climate goals contained within the final bill also have several perks inserted for the fossil fuel industry, including:
- new oil and gas drilling lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska’s Cook Inlet;
- ties of federal renewable energy development to fossil fuels; thus,
- forcing the Interior Department to hold sales of oil leases if it wants to hold wind or solar auctions.
These concessions clash with President Biden’s campaign goal of ending new drilling leases on federal lands and waters.
JL Andrepont, senior policy campaigner and policy analyst at 350.org, warned that “the Biden administration, in a desperate need to capitulate to Manchin, is engaging in a bait and switch tactic on climate legislation.”
“With these and the many other underhanded gifts to him and the fossil fuel industry, this bill is more of a climate scam bill than a climate change bill,” Andrepont exclaimed. “How are we supposed to hit our emission reduction targets, be a beacon to the rest of the world, and show that we are committed to addressing climate change if our best efforts are two steps backward?”
“What the world needs now,” Andrepont added, “is an unequivocal commitment by those in power to shut down the fossil fuel industry and do everything possible to support the frontline communities who contribute the least to this crisis but are already suffering the most from it.”
“What the hell are we waiting for?” Representative Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) asked Wednesday. “We have to get something done like yesterday. The president must declare a climate emergency and mobilize every resource we have to respond to it.”
End Fossil Occupy has published a manifesto calling for students all across the globe to organize protests at their schools that push for an end to fossil fuels.
Climate Emergency Seems Off the Table
During a press conference on Thursday, the president hailed the Inflation Reduction Act as “the most important investment we’ve ever made in our energy security” and provided no indication that a climate emergency declaration is forthcoming.
A few days ago, climate activist Bill McKibben listed several productive results that could occur if President Biden were to declare a climate emergency. Yes, the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 would satisfy a number of these needs. If enacted as described to date, it would:
- Cut methane pollution
- Accelerate transportation electrification
- Start building climate resilient, green infrastructure and distributed energy projects on federal facilities and military bases
Yet the Act has several gaps that a climate emergency executive order could tackle. It could:
- End the practice of leasing public lands and waters for fossil fuel production
- Stop issuing permits for any new fossil fuel infrastructure, including pipelines like Line 3, Line 5, and the Mountain Valley Pipeline
- Update clean air standards limiting particulate matter, ozone, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, mercury, coal ash, and tailpipe emissions
- Continue to work to end fossil fuel subsidies
Final Thoughts about Declaring a Climate Emergency
“The work of the government can be slow and frustrating and sometimes even infuriating,” President Biden said at the White House, where he celebrated the compromise agreement. “Then, the hard work of hours and days and months from people who refuse to give up pays off. History is made. Lives are changed.”
“Joe Manchin is fighting climate change?” comedian Stephen Colbert joked after the news was released. “Wait, am I dreaming? I have all my teeth, I’m not a skeleton, you’re all wearing clothes, I’m rich and famous — no, this is real.”
Like Colbert, many of us have dreamed of real climate legislation action. After all, the Climate Emergency Act of 2021 faded into nothingness.
As Bill McKibben pleaded, “Please, President Biden, now is the time to declare a climate emergency and show your leadership to build a clean, renewable energy future with good jobs.”[embedded content]
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