For more than a year, US President Joe Biden has been trying to shepherd the Build Back Better bill through Congress, which would generate more than $500 billion for climate action, the most abundant funding ever committed to the issue by the US.
Recently, the bill evolved into the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, which features watered-down, but still substantial, climate legislation.
As the Biden administration works to get this bill to the finish line, it's still seeking to take action via the executive branch. In support of this campaign, the president traveled to Somerset, Massachusetts, on July 20 to unveil new executive actions and proposals for infrastructure, renewable energy, and community resilience, while discussing the extreme threats posed by increasing temperatures and widespread environmental breakdown.
Biden described climate change as an emergency, but stopped short of activating the full weight of that statement by formally declaring a national emergency through the National Emergency Act (NEA).
Various members of Congress, along with environmental groups and activists across the country, are calling on Biden to take this extra step.
By gathering the full force of federal agencies through the NEA, the administration can accomplish a significant amount toward its goal to halve emissions by 2030 compared to 2005 levels and put the US on the right track for carbon neutrality.
Here are five things that declaring climate change a National Emergency could accomplish.
1. Boost Renewable Energy Production
Declaring a climate emergency would trigger a range of associated acts including the Defense Production Act, which would allow the federal government to disburse grants and loans to the rapid expansion of renewable energy production. This would also allow the administration to order manufacturing facilities to pivot to supporting renewable energy supplies, and expedite the shift of the workforce to this sector, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
2. Stop Fossil Fuel Projects
Taking this step would give the administration discretion to stop actions and activities that are contributing to the emergency, the Hill reports. At the top of the list are the fossil fuel projects that create the coal, natural gas, and oil that, when burned, release the greenhouse gas emissions that are warming the atmosphere and destabilizing the climate. The administration could potentially suspend offshore leases for oil exploration and limit the export of crude oil, the Hill notes.
3. Expand Clean Transportation
The US lags behind the rest of the world when it comes to clean, reliable, public transportation due to a chronic lack of investment. The NEA would give the Biden administration the ability to invest significant sums of money in transforming transportation in the country, whether it’s funding clean bus and rail systems, expanding access to electric car charging stations, or enforcing better road emissions standards, according to a group of senators urging Biden to step up in an open letter.
4. Limit Environmentally Harmful Industries
A climate emergency would also activate the International Economic Emergency Protection Act, which would allow the administration to prevent environmentally harmful products from being imported into the country, such as timber from vulnerable forests, the Hill reports.
5. Rally Climate Action on the Local, State, and International Levels
If the US declared a climate emergency, it would have immediate impacts around the world, signalling to other countries that the world’s most influential economy is finally ready to start taking climate change seriously. Economically speaking, the declaration could have ripple effects elsewhere because of the additional money disbursed to clean energy production and the potential sanctions placed on environmentally harmful activities. It could also have a profound symbolic effect heading into COP27, the United Nations Conference on Climate Change taking place in Egypt later this year, paving the way for bold international action.
Over the past several decades, climate action in the US has been led by local and state governments, particularly cities. However, their capacities have always been limited by budget restraints, a problem that could be significantly eased by the announcement of a climate emergency at the federal level, which would unlock tens of billions of dollars in new funding.
“Addressing this crisis head-on, with the full authorities you possess is a win for the environment, public health, the planet, American workers, American consumers, and our national security interests,” the group of senators wrote in their open letter.
“We urge you to act boldly, declare this crisis the national emergency that it is, and embark upon bold regulatory and administrative action.”