Editorial: Biden should declare climate emergency

The Los Angeles Times

President Biden’s recent claim that he has “practically” declared a climate emergency has renewed calls for him to actually do so. And he should.

Since the start of his term, climate activists have urged Biden to declare a climate emergency to unlock additional executive powers and resources to increase renewable energy, restrict fossil fuel extraction and protect Americans from wildfires, heat waves, storms and other climate-fueled disasters.

But pressure eased with the deal to pass the renewable energy-boosting Inflation Reduction Act, and after Biden signed it into law, he never declared a climate emergency. So it was laughable when the president said an Aug. 9 interview with the Weather Channel that he already had done so, “practically speaking.” The Poynter Institute’s Politifact Truth-O-Meter rated his statement “false.”

If the president is serious about fighting the climate crisis, why not declare it an emergency for real?

Invoking the National Emergencies Act, the Stafford Act and other federal laws that give the president executive authority to respond to disasters, emergencies and threats to national security would enable Biden to access additional funding for climate-resilient infrastructure projects by the Pentagon and Federal Emergency Management Agency. He could go beyond that and restore the ban on crude oil exports, suspend offshore drilling in federal waters and stop investments in foreign fossil fuel projects. And with the Republican-controlled House blocking climate action, the country needs the executive branch to respond more aggressively.

Biden’s rhetoric on climate change has been strong — he has at least called it an emergency — and with the Inflation Reduction Act, he took the biggest federal climate action to date.

But the president’s actions still fall seriously short, particularly when it comes to phasing out fossil fuels that are overheating the climate.

A presidential climate emergency declaration might anger Republicans in Congress, but that should not stop him. Presidents of both parties have declared dozens of national emergencies since the 1970s to respond to natural disasters, terrorism and disease outbreaks. Some of these declarations remain in place decades later, and not one has been overturned in court.

The planet is, of course, already telling us loud and clear that we’re in an emergency. This year alone we’ve seen the hottest month ever recorded, flooding that caused more than $4 billion in damage in California, 101-degree ocean temperatures in Florida, choking wildfire smoke that turned skies orange, a hurricane bound for Southern California and the nation’s deadliest wildfire in more than a century.

We need the president to scale up his response to the climate crisis accordingly, and follow through with bold new actions. Biden can start by declaring it the emergency that he already knows it to be.