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White House Considers Emergency Declaration to Fight Climate Change

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White House officials are weighing possible executive action by President Joe Biden on climate change, including an emergency declaration that would allow him to steer federal funding to clean-energy projects.

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(Bloomberg) — White House officials are weighing possible executive action by President Joe Biden on climate change, including an emergency declaration that would allow him to steer federal funding to clean-energy projects. 

The possible emergency order, which would unlock broad executive powers to propel clean-energy construction, restrict oil drilling and curb fossil fuel flows, is one of several options under discussion, said people familiar with the matter who asked not to be named describing private deliberations. 

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No final decision has been made on whether to deploy the tactic that’s long been advocated by climate activists, though discussions were invigorated by Senator Joe Manchin’s decision last week to slam the brakes on clean energy legislation in Congress.

Biden already threatened to deploy executive powers against climate change, insisting he would “not back down” from the fight. “If the Senate will not move to tackle the climate crisis and strengthen our domestic clean energy industry, I will take strong executive action to meet this moment,” Biden said in a statement Friday.

An emergency declaration would unlock sweeping presidential powers to redirect federal funding to clean-energy construction, steer aid to communities on the front lines of climate change and even curb the export of the fossil fuels driving global warming. Former President Donald Trump used a similar tactic to divert billions of dollars to begin construction of a border wall after Congress refused to appropriate the funding.

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Pressed on the possibility Tuesday, special presidential coordinator for international energy affairs Amos Hochstein told CNN there were “speculations in the press about what the president is going to be doing,” but for now, the administration is focused on preserving ongoing work to address climate change and “accelerate the transition” to emissions-free energy.

The White House deliberations come as many Democrats on Capitol Hill are ready to move on from their year-long strategy of advancing climate legislation — with hundreds of millions of dollars in clean-energy tax credits — through a fast-track budget process.

“The potential to enact the legislation is dead,” said Senator Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat. He added that development “frees up the president to use the full powers of the executive branch. And those full powers certainly include a climate emergency.”

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Senator Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat and author of the Green New Deal, has lobbied the White House to seize emergency authority. 

“I made my case that it’s time for urgent action,” Markey said Monday. “My hope is his actions will be as bold as the problem requires.”

By declaring a national emergency, Biden can tap into more than 100 special powers, normally designed to address hurricanes, terrorist attacks and other unforeseen events. But some good-government advocates have warned against the move, cautioning that some steps could be struck down by federal courts as an impermissible end run around Congress.

Even without an emergency declaration, Biden can use the federal government’s purchasing power to compel clean-energy acquisitions. He can also seize authority under other laws to clamp down on methane emissions from oil wells and impose tough new emissions controls for automobiles.

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Using laws typically reserved for national disasters to address an ongoing climate crisis would also be controversial. But it’s a potent way for Biden to show he’s committed to addressing the threat, even amid inaction from the closely divided Congress — and make that demonstration before November’s pivotal mid-term elections.

Even if Biden were to declare a climate emergency, he might wield his new powers in a targeted way, such as by seeking to increase clean energy production, said Benjamin Salisbury, director of research at Height Capital Markets.

Bigger steps, such as limiting fossil fuel production, transportation and consumption “could be vulnerable to legal challenge,” Salisbury said in a research note for clients Tuesday.

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