President Joe Biden incorrectly claimed in an interview with The Weather Channel that he has already declared a national emergency on the climate crisis.
“I’ve already done that,” Biden said when asked whether he intends to do declare a climate emergency. “We’ve conserved more land, we’ve rejoined the Paris Climate Accords, we’ve passed the $368 billion climate control facility. We’re moving. It is the existential threat to humanity.”
When pressed again on whether he had actually declared a national emergency, Biden said: “Practically speaking, yes.”
While Biden has taken a series of significant legislative and executive steps to combat climate change, he has stopped short of declaring a national emergency, which would unlock sweeping new federal authorities and funds to combat the climate crisis. Climate activists have called on Biden since the earliest days of his presidency to declare a national emergency.
Pressed about Biden’s claim, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Wednesday that Biden was referring to his decision last year to invoke the Defense Production Act to spur production of clean energy technologies.
“What the president was talking about is the Defense Production Act. That’s something he did very early on,” Jean-Pierre said on “CNN This Morning.”
Defense Production Act authorities are unrelated to a national emergency declaration, which would give Biden power to restrict the export of crude oil and end offshore drilling, among other authorities.
A White House official added that Biden “was clear in the interview, as he has been for decades, about the existential threat of climate change and the urgency and priority he places on addressing it.”
The interview was done as part of the president’s four-day western swing in which he is attempting to drum up excitement for what he’s done to fight the climate crisis.
The president seemed close to declaring a climate emergency in the summer of 2022 after it appeared Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, had tanked the Inflation Reduction Act – Biden’s signature climate and health care bill. In a July 20, 2022, speech in Massachusetts, Biden strongly hinted that he could declare an emergency.
“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 during that speech.
However, a deal was struck between Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, a little more than a week later on the Inflation Reduction Act and Biden signed the bill into law in August 2022. It includes $369 billion in funding to combat climate change.
Since then, Biden has often touted the provisions in the law but has not formally declared a climate emergency.
The issue poses a dual challenge for the president and his campaign – selling skeptical Americans on the benefits of his already-enacted climate agenda while balancing the concerns of those who don’t feel like he’s done enough. Most Americans, 57%, disapprove of Biden’s handling of the issue, according to a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll released Monday.
Climate advocacy groups are seizing on the moment and are pressing Biden to actually declare an emergency.
“Approving new fossil fuel projects like the Willow Project is not ‘practically’ declaring a climate emergency,” Sunrise Movement executive director Varshini Prakash said in a statement. “It’s a no-brainer to declare a climate emergency – and if President Biden said we already have, then why not do it now?”
Other groups, including the climate group coalition People vs. Fossil Fuels – which represents over 1,200 groups, released a statement saying Biden should “follow through on his rhetoric” by declaring a national emergency that could further speed up deploying clean energy and halting fossil fuel production.
“Now that President Biden says he’s ‘practically’ declared a climate emergency, it’s time to do it for real,” People vs. Fossil Fuels, a coalition of over 1,200 groups, said in their statement.
CNN’s Ella Nilsen contributed to this report.