Biden lays out new funds for localities on climate, but no national emergency yet

By: - July 20, 2022 3:25 pm

Climate-induced weather disasters include record wildfires in the West, record-setting heat waves and droughts, and aggressive hurricanes. Here, smoke plumes and hurricane clouds are visible at once. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory

With U.S. Senate negotiations over climate funding stalled, President Joe Biden on Wednesday is directing additional spending to help states and cities manage climate disasters — resisting calls from many congressional Democrats to take more aggressive executive action like a declaration of a national climate emergency.

Biden is also announcing steps executive agencies are taking to expand offshore wind development into the Gulf of Mexico and provide funding for local cooling centers. Dangerous heat waves have become more common in recent years. The United Kingdom and other parts of Europe are currently experiencing record heat and fires.

Biden’s remarks were expected to come during an appearance at a former coal plant in Somerset, Massachusetts, according to an administration official who briefed reporters earlier Wednesday. Massachusetts Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey as well as Rep. Jake Auchincloss, all Democrats, are scheduled to accompany Biden to the plant, which now manufactures undersea cables used in the wind industry.

The administration moves fall far short of what several Democrats in Congress and environmental advocates had urged the president to do after talks between conservative-leaning Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York about a broad climate spending and tax plan appeared to collapse last week. Manchin’s vote would be needed for so-called reconciliation legislation to advance in the evenly divided Senate.

Manchin said he could be open to climate legislation later this summer, but only if he saw favorable inflation figures next month.

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat who chairs the subcommittee that directs environmental funding, told reporters this week that the apparent dead end of Senate climate talks “unchained” Biden from waiting for legislative action. Merkley called on the administration to “pivot to a very aggressive climate strategy.”

Merkley and Rhode Island Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse voiced several options for executive action, including using the Defense Production Act to spur production of clean-energy materials like solar panels, halting approvals of oil and gas projects and enacting new Environmental Protection Agency regulations.

The administration official said Biden was acting because he recognized that the Democratic-controlled Congress would not soon pass a climate bill. The White House said more executive actions could be coming in coming weeks.

“If you’re asking me to forecast the rest of the week, yeah, we’re going to keep taking climate action every single day because that’s been part and parcel of this administration’s focus,” a senior administration official told reporters. “This is one of the four crises the president defined when he was inaugurated.”

Heat waves, drought

Wednesday’s actions include $2.3 billion for a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant program to help communities build resilience to climate events like heat waves, drought, wildfire and flooding.

That figure is the largest allocation in the program’s history, the administration official said.

The president in addition is directing the Interior Department to propose areas for offshore wind power development in the southern Atlantic Ocean and off Florida’s Gulf Coast.

The U.S. Health and Human Services Department also released guidance Wednesday to help states and local governments respond to heat emergencies.

The guidance allows states and local governments to use funds from the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill passed in Biden’s first months in office to secure air-conditioning units and provide cooling centers to shelter vulnerable people.

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Jacob Fischler
Jacob Fischler

Jacob covers federal policy as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. Based in Oregon, he focuses on Western issues. His coverage areas include climate, energy development, public lands and infrastructure.

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