Biden mounts fight against climate change as Congress stalled by partisan deadlock

(CN) — Reluctant in the face of the Senate’s failure to rally around the climate provisions of its Build Back Better plan, President Joe Biden announcement Wednesday that he will begin issuing executive orders and proclamations in the coming days to address the climate change emergency without the support of the legislature.

“When it comes to fighting climate change, I won’t take no for an answer,” Biden said Wednesday, amid a week in which large swathes of the country and other parts of the world are feeling first-hand the extreme weather events that have become more common and destructive in recent years.

To help regions hardest hit by extreme heat, drought, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes, Biden plans to allocate $2.3 billion in federal money to build US infrastructure “designed to withstand the full range of disasters we have seen”. He added that he will provide $385 million in federal funds for state programs that provide air conditioning in low-income homes and will set up community cooling centers in schools where people can get through these crises. extreme heat.

Military installations and the U.S. supply chain are not immune to disruptions from extreme weather, Biden added, noting that those delays in turn trigger shortages for consumers and businesses.

“As president, I have a responsibility to act with urgency and resolve when our nation faces a clear and present danger,” Biden said.

“Climate change is literally an existential threat to our nation and to the world,” he continued.

Biden’s announcement comes six days after Democratic West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin announced he would not support key climate provisions that would have provided about $300 billion in clean energy incentives. In Manchin’s home state, more than 20,000 people work in coal, oil and gas, and he is a long-time advocate for his state’s fossil fuel industry.

Manchin cited high inflation as a reason for not supporting climate initiatives.

With only Vice President Kamala Harris to give them a slim majority in the Senate, Democrats will now have to balance Manchin’s interests to pass the bill that also expands the Affordable Care Act’s provisions and allows Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices.

Biden has indicated that he wants Congress to move forward on this front.

Nine Democratic senators pressured Biden ahead of his Wednesday speech to use his presidential powers to declare climate change a national emergency. This week alone, more than 100 million Americans are facing heat advisories or warnings, with states across the country expecting temperatures in the 90s or triple digits. At the same time, western states are facing severe drought and wildfires.

Present for Biden’s speech on Wednesday in Somerset, Massachusetts, were the two Bay State senators, Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren, who wrote in a letter to the president joined by seven fellow Democratic senators that the use of the National Emergency Act would “unlock powers to rebuild a better economy with meaningful and concrete action.”

“Under the NEA, you could redirect spending to build renewable energy systems on military bases, implement large-scale clean transportation solutions, and fund distributed energy projects to build climate resilience. “, they wrote. “All of these actions would employ Americans in new and emerging industries while securing American leadership in global markets.”

Presidential powers would also allow Biden to suspend oil and gas development on federal lands via the Defense Production Act, which would also give him the ability to issue tougher guidelines on greenhouse gases and pollution. The action would mimic how former President Donald Trump declared a national emergency in 2019 to build a wall on the US-Mexico border after Congress refused to provide him with funding to do so.

While Biden promised strong action on climate change during his 2020 presidential bid, pledging to achieve 100% clean electricity by 2035, he has made little progress on this front for 18 months. in power. Setbacks to his goals have included an unprecedented global spike in gasoline prices sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which led the White House to advocate for greater domestic oil production. , and the Supreme Court’s decision earlier this month that limited the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate carbon dioxide emissions.

President Joe Biden speaks on climate change and clean energy at the Brayton Power Plant in Somerset, Massachusetts on July 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Biden also announced that his administration would be developing wind power in the Gulf of Mexico for the first time, noting that his team had approved America’s first commercial offshore wind project in 2021. He added that the Department of Labor is developing workplace standards for extreme heat, and the agency has already conducted more than 500 heat-related inspections of workplaces in 43 states.

“We are going to make the environments and places where people live safer. We are going to make America safer. We have an opportunity here,” he said.

Biden’s press event took place at a coal-fired power plant that closed in 2017 but will now operate an offshore wind farm and an undersea cable manufacturing plant. The cables will connect the wind turbines to the existing electricity network.

“Making these cables will mean well-paying jobs for 250 workers, as many workers as the old power plant had at its peak,” the president said.

For years, Biden pointed out, coal power has supported the economy of the Somerset region with electricity, good jobs and local tax payments. At the same time, however, it polluted nearby communities with toxins, smog, and greenhouse gas emissions.

“Gina McCarthy, a former regulator from Massachusetts, used to tell me on the ride how people used to pull out a rag and wipe the grime off their car windshields in the morning just so they could drive,” said Biden about his now climate adviser.

He bet no one who grew up near the coal-fired plant would support the plant’s return, adding that people didn’t know when coal first became popular how disastrous it would be for public health or the climate.

“We have no excuse now,” he said.

Separately on Friday, Biden repealed a regulation withheld by the last administration that marked the latest of Trump’s endangered species law rollbacks.

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