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What Would Happen if Biden Declared a National Climate Emergency?

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September 13, 2023

In an interview with the Weather Channel on August 9, 2023, President Joe Biden claimed that he had already declared a national emergency on the climate crisis. When probed further on whether he has actually done it, Biden said: “Practically speaking, yes.” While Biden has taken a series of actions to combat the climate crisis, he has not yet declared a national emergency. What would happen if he did?

What has Biden done so far to deal with the climate crisis?

As a presidential candidate in 2020, Biden promised “no new drilling, period” on federal property. He has kept part of his promise by taking a few steps:

  • Ban drilling on 1.8 million acres of sagebrush steppe in Wyoming and on more than a million acres of public land in Colorado.
  • Insulating more than 336,400 acres of public land around Chaco Culture National Historical Park from new oil and gas leasing and mining claims for the next two decades.
  • Raising the royalties that fossil fuel companies must pay to pull oil, gas and coal from public lands for the first time since 1920 while increasing more than tenfold the cost of the bonds that companies must pay before they start drilling.
  • Introducing Inflation Reduction Act, which included hundreds of billions of dollars to help the U.S. transition away from fossil fuels.
  • The most recent decision to block drilling on millions of acres of Alaskan tundra to curtail fossil fuel extraction on public land and in federal waters.

While these are significant initiatives, they are not the same as declaring a national climate emergency.

What would it mean if Biden “actually” declared a national climate emergency?

Several activists, lawmakers, and scientists have been pushing President Biden to declare a climate emergency. Under the National Emergencies Act, it would give him sweeping executive authority to halt fossil fuel production that’s responsible for the climate crisis. This would also enable him to facilitate the transition to clean energy sources by increasing the manufacturing of clean energy technologies.

The law limits the declaration to one year, but the government can renew it to continue the fight against the climate crisis.

According to the Brennan Centre for Justice, if President Biden declares a national climate emergency, he will have the following powers:

  • Oil leases are required to have clauses allowing them to be suspended during national emergencies. (43 U.S. Code 1341) If climate change is a national emergency caused by fossil fuels, then suspension seems like a logical response.
  • The president can use emergency powers to respond to industrial shortfalls during national emergencies. (50 U.S. Code 4533). This could be used to support the expansion of battery or electrical vehicle production. Another provision allows the president to extend loan guarantees to critical industries during national emergencies. (50 USC 4531). This could be used to support renewable energy more generally.
  • During national emergencies, the secretary of Transportation has broad power to “coordinate transportation” to decrease emissions of greenhouse gases. (49 U.S. Code 114). This might allow various restrictions on automobile and truck use to decrease emissions of greenhouse gases.
  • The president may invoke the International Emergency Economic Powers Act to deal with “any unusual and extraordinary threat, which has its source in whole or substantial part outside the United States.” (50 U.S. Code 1701-1707). Climate change meets the requirements of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, which allows the president to deploy powers against companies or countries trafficking in fossil fuels.

This would also send a strong signal to the international community, as well as businesses and government organizations, that the U.S. is committed to reducing its carbon emissions.

If you would like to urge President Biden to declare a climate emergency, there are a few petitions available for you to sign:

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September 13, 2023

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