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President Biden is considering declaring a national climate emergency later this week to salvage his environmental agenda after talks stalled on Capitol Hill, according to three people familiar with the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private consultations.
The possible move comes days after Senator Joe Manchin III (DW.V.) told Democratic leaders he does not support his party’s efforts to push ahead with a sweeping economic package this month that will cost billions of dollars to cut carbon emissions and to promote clean energy.
The White House has previously said all options are on the table but did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday. Two of those with knowledge of the discussions said they expect the President to announce a series of additional measures aimed at curbing planet-warming emissions. The exact scope and timing of any announcements remains subject to change.
Jared Bernstein, a senior White House economic adviser, told reporters at a news conference Monday that Biden would “aggressively fight climate change.”
“I think realistically there’s a lot he can and will do,” Bernstein said.
Top Biden aides discuss best course of action as another punishing heatwave swept across the central United States this week and a similar weather pattern shattered temperature records across Europe. Many Democrats have in recent days called on the White House to use its powers to fight global warming as hopes of congressional action have dwindled.
“This is an important moment. There is probably nothing more important to our nation and our world than for the United States to embark on a bold, energetic transition in its energy economy from fossil fuels to renewable energy,” Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) told reporters earlier Monday.
Citing the impasse, Merkley added, “This also frees the President from waiting for Congress to act.”
It’s unclear exactly how Biden plans to proceed if he chooses to declare a climate emergency, which Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (DN.Y.) urged him to do just days after taking office last year .
Biden’s plan to curb catastrophic warming is coming to an end
Some climate activists have in recent months urged the White House to issue a maximum-impact emergency declaration, arguing that this would allow the President to halt crude oil exports, limit oil and gas drilling in federal waters, and alert agencies, including the Federal Emergency Management to direct agency (FEMA) for the promotion of renewable energy sources.
But the president faces a difficult balancing act as he tries to balance his response to a warming planet with the recent economic reality of high gas prices. The policy could support Biden’s bid to halve US emissions by the end of the decade compared to 2005 levels, although it still falls short of what Biden hoped to achieve through his earlier economic plan known as Build Back Better.
Any new executive action on climate could also face a massive court case, which could affect the future of environmental regulation. Last month, the Supreme Court limited the federal government’s powers to regulate CO2 emissions from power plants.
The president himself last week hinted at the prospect of executive branch action on climate change as talks between Democratic leaders and Manchin collapsed over what could be the biggest infusion of climate-related spending in US history.
Originally, Democrats had hoped to invest more than $500 billion in new programs to cut emissions and support new technologies, including electric vehicles, before Manchin objected to the Build Back Better bill. The West Virginian’s opposition proved politically fatal, as party lawmakers demand his vote to advance a bill with the process known as reconciliation — a tactic that has allowed Democrats to dodge a GOP filibuster in the narrowly divided chamber.
Democrats soon set about reconsidering their plans, considering potentially $300 billion in climate protection investments to please Manchin. But the moderate senator, who represents a coal-rich state, said last week he could not support his party’s attempts to spur such spending this month amid record-high inflation.
Manchin later expressed his openness to tackling climate change but said he would only do so after seeing another round of indicators next month. But many Democrats said they didn’t want to take the risk, leaving them no choice but to shelve their plans entirely — turning their attention instead to health proposals Manchin supports.
Others called for another round of engagements with the senator, citing the fact that executive action alone may not be enough. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the chair of the Senate’s tax-focused finance committee, said in a statement Monday that lawmakers should at least consider renewing tax credits that encourage cleaner tech.
“While I strongly support additional executive action by President Biden, we know a spate of Republican lawsuits will follow,” Wyden said. “Legislation is still the best option here. The climate crisis is the topic of our time and we should keep our options open.”
Dino Grandoni contributed to this report.