John Kerry, the US special envoy for climate, has said that President Joe Biden is “very close” to declaring a national climate emergency and that “it’s a matter of timing”.
He made the remarks to the The New York Times as the president announced more climate-related measures including offshore wind development in the Gulf of Mexico and $2.3billion to help vulnerable communities deal with extreme heat.
Secretary Kerry said that within the administration, discussions were about when the declaration should be announced, “rather than if it should be done”, The Times reported.
Mr Biden spoke on Wedneday in Somerset, Massachusetts, at the site of a defunct coal-fired power plant being transformed into a manufacturing hub for New England’s offshore wind industry, promising more aggressive climate action was coming.
The president called the climate crisis “a clear and present danger” and lambasted Congress for failing to pass climate legislation, adding that “not a single Republican” had supported the bill.
“This is an emergency and I will look at it that way,” Mr Biden said as temperatures soared into the 90s. But he stopped short of declaring a national emergency — which a growing number of his own party are calling for.
A national emergency declaration would give the president power to stop fossil fuel projects at the federal level, and rapidly shift to clean energy in order to cut planet-cooking emissions without input from Congress. But the move would also likely face a slew of lawsuits from Republican-led states.
Calls are growing within Democratic ranks for the president to take the step as the country experiences another summer of dangerous heat, explosive wildfires and more intense storms. Europe is in the grips of a deadly heatwave that has left more than 1,900 people dead in Spain and Portugal, while dozens of homes across the UK were destroyed by fire in the wake of a record 40C day.
After describing the climate situation as an “emergency” in his speech, Mr Biden was subsequently asked by a reporter why he hadn’t gone ahead and made the official declaration.
“Because I’m running into traps on the totality of the authority I have. I will make that decision soon,” he replied.
This week, a letter sent to Mr Biden from eight Democratic senators and Bernie Sanders, the Independent senator of Vermont, called for the president to make the bold move.
“If ever there is an emergency that demands ambitious action, climate chaos is it,” the letter read.
“We cannot allow a single Senator to stall our progress,” it continued, referencing news last week that the path to create meaningful climate legislation had once again been blocked by West Virginia Democrat, Senator Joe Manchin.
Mr Manchin said last week that he would not support his party’s attempt to push through an economic package this month, which included billions of dollars to fight the climate crisis.
New York Congresswoman Alexandrio Ocasio-Cortez told The Independent on Tuesday that declaring a climate emergency would be an “essential step” and slammed Senator Manchin’s actions.
“Manchin has paused all action for the United States to act on climate for the last four years,” Rep Ocasio-Cortez said. “So I don’t think he has any authority to speak on climate for the rest of our term here.””
Mr Kerry also told The Times that he worried other countries could use the lack of climate action in Congress as an excuse not to reduce their own emissions.
More than 1,200 environmental and climate groups reiterated calls for Mr Biden to up the ante on climate change — noting that none of the plans announced on Wednesday would do much to cut the fossil fuel use that is overwhelmingly responsible for global heating.
“The world’s burning up from California to Croatia, and right now Biden’s fighting fire with the trickle from a garden hose,” said Jean Su, Energy Justice program director at the Center for Biological Diversity.