President Joe Biden escalated his warnings about climate change Wednesday, calling it a “clear and present danger” as he previewed a slate of executive actions meant to combat a crisis whose effects are bearing down on a wide swath of the country.
Speaking under beating sun at a defunct coal power plant in Massachusetts, Biden announced $2.3 billion in new funding for communities facing extreme heat and new steps to boost the offshore wind industry.
And while he stopped short of declaring an official national climate emergency, he strongly hinted he could take that step soon as Democrats and activists encourage him to elevate the crisis and unlock new federal resources to combat it.
“Climate change is an emergency, and in the coming weeks I’m going to use the power I have as president to turn these words into formal, official, government actions through the appropriate proclamations, executive orders and regulatory power that a president possesses,” Biden said.
He used language rooted in national security and threat assessments to describe a crisis whose effects could be felt across the nation Wednesday as tens of millions of Americans suffered through extreme heat.
“As President, I have a responsibility to act with urgency and resolve when our nation faces clear and present danger, and that’s what climate change is,” Biden said, promising new steps to curtail what he called an “existential threat to our nation and to the world.”
The moves amounted to what White House officials describe as the first steps of a major raft of executive actions Biden is planning after legislative attempts at combating climate change stalled.
Biden has told his team he wants to take decisive and speedy action on climate after efforts to pass robust new laws collapsed last week. Without action from Congress and hemmed in by a recent Supreme Court ruling, the President’s overall goal of sharply reducing US carbon output appears further from reach.
Work toward a legislative climate package fell apart last week when Sen. Joe Manchin, the moderate West Virginia Democrat, said he was halting negotiations amid concerns over inflation. Yet Wednesday, Biden made no mention of Manchin, choosing to lambast Republicans who oppose his plan instead.
“Not a single Republican in Congress stepped up to support my climate plan, not one,” he said.
Biden, who was traveling in Saudi Arabia when the legislative efforts collapsed, said immediately he planned to use executive action to advance his climate agenda. Since then, White House officials have been working to finalize options for the President to sign that could address the issue through reducing emissions, providing incentives for using clean energy and other areas.
Yet while the President is eager to demonstrate his commitment to climate, he did not declare a national climate emergency on Wednesday, a step that would unlock new federal resources to address the issue and allow him to limit federal oil drilling.
Instead, he unveiled a handful of lesser steps while promising further action soon.
“The announcement today is going to be about making the case that climate change is an emergency, outlining actions that we’re going to be moving forward over the coming weeks,” national climate adviser Gina McCarthy said earlier during an appearance on CNN’s New Day. “And the President will make very clear again, that this is an emergency and we are going to act. But the President is going to outline that at his pace.”
She indicated additional actions, beyond what Biden announces in Massachusetts, would be unveiled this summer.
“The President has a number of authorities he can use and he’s going to work through those and make those announcements,” she said, later adding, “You’ll see them rolling out over the next few weeks.”
Congressional action “would be helpful,” McCarthy said, but Biden is “no longer sitting around waiting for that.”
That includes the potential of declaring a national climate emergency, a move several Senate Democrats have said is necessary as it becomes clearer Congress won’t act. And while Biden at one point appeared on track to declare a national emergency this week, by Tuesday a decision had been made to hold off.
“Everything is on the table. It’s just not going to be this week on that decision,” press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Tuesday afternoon.
Biden delivered his speech Wednesday from a shuttered coal power plant in Somerset, Massachusetts, that is being transformed into a factory producing cables for offshore wind farms.
The new funding for heat-affected communities comes amid record-setting heat waves impacting tens of millions of Americans across a wide swath of the country. Extreme heat is also crippling parts of Europe and has sparked wildfires in France, Greece, Spain and Portugal.
Upon taking office, Biden pledged to world leaders the US would cut emissions in half by 2030, part of an effort to rally international support behind ambitious carbon reduction targets. While the White House has said it had multiple pathways to achieving that coal, the failure by Congress to act has limited Biden’s ability to meet the target.
The Supreme Court’s ruling in June that limited the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants further restricted the administration’s capacities.
McCarthy said in the CNN interview she believed it was still possible to achieve the carbon reduction target without congressional action on climate.
“That’s part of the challenge that the President is opening up for us and the opportunity. We have to look over the next weeks at what is the best strategy to use absent congressional action and still hope that Congress continues to take up that mantle, but the President isn’t waiting,” she said.
CNN’s Donald Judd contributed to this report.