Biden tries to salvage his climate agenda and weighs remaining options

President Biden will travel on Wednesday to a shuttered coal-fired power plant now part of an offshore wind project in Massachusetts, where he is expected to make clean energy comments as his administration works to save the climate agenda.

Biden will not declare a national climate emergency, the White House confirmed, disappointing Democratic lawmakers and activists who had called on Mr. Biden to step, which would have given him the ability to halt new federal oil drilling and ramp up wind, solar and other clean energy projects.

The president is under great pressure to act decisively. His administration has spent the past year and a half trying to pass robust climate change legislation, only to see it collapse last week because it failed to get support from Senator Joe Manchin III, the swinging Democratic vote in the evenly divided Senate.

That setback followed a Supreme Court ruling in June that severely limited the Environmental Protection Agency’s power to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

On Wednesday, he will tour the former Brayton Point Power Station in Somerset, Massachusetts, which by the time it closed in 2017 was the last coal-fired power station in the state, government officials said. The plant will be converted into an offshore wind facility that will make submarine transmission cables. Those lines will bring power generated by wind turbines, now under construction in the Atlantic, to New England’s electrical grid.

“The climate emergency won’t happen tomorrow, but we still have it on the table,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Tuesday. “Everything is on the table. It just won’t be this week about that decision.”

Mr Biden’s move comes as more than 100 million Americans, from Texas to most of Kentucky, were under heat advisory or warnings on Tuesday. In some states and cities, temperatures were expected to reach 110 degrees Fahrenheit, about 43 degrees Celsius. Heat advisories and emergencies were also in effect or planned for some parts of the East Coast, including Boston.

In Europe, heat shattered temperature records across the continent, prompting British officials to issue the first-ever “red” warning of extreme heat in England. The heat caused wildfires in Spain, France, Portugal and Greece. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres on Monday pleaded with countries to take action in the face of what he called a global “climate emergency”.

Democratic lawmakers have urged Biden to act quickly to try to reduce pollution caused by the United States, which has historically released more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than any other country.

“In many ways, the president has put all his chips into this action of Congress, and we have failed,” said Oregon Democrat Senator Jeff Merkley. But, he said, “This unleashes the president to wait for Congress to act.”

Mr Biden was annoyed by accusations by some Democrats that his response to the recent Supreme Court abortion ruling was slow and lukewarm, and he was eager to make an aggressive announcement, the two officials said, who wished to remain anonymous because they didn’t. authorized to discuss internal deliberations.

At the same time, some of the president’s advisers have urged caution not to antagonize Mr Manchin in the hopes that he would still agree to tax credits for wind or solar providers or other measures, they said.

Mr Merkley accused the Biden administration of “walking on eggshells” around Mr Manchin for the past year.

He and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat of Rhode Island, said Biden should invoke a national climate emergency, as well as a range of other measures, such as regulating greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, formally estimating the climate damage caused by fossil fuels. fuel projects and imposing a tax on imports from countries that do not have aggressive climate policies.

“There’s a whole host of other regulations they can go through,” said Mr Whitehouse.

Climate advocates said Mr Biden needed to show he could take aggressive action to curb rising emissions.

“There really is a total lack of leadership in this country on climate matters,” said Jean Su, senior attorney and director of the Energy Justice program at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s time to get serious. This is the clarion call we need from the leadership of this country.”

Even before Mr. Manchin pulled the plug on climate legislation, the White House was working on executive steps to curb global warming, which experts say could still remove some of the country’s carbon footprint, though not enough to to achieve the objectives. Biden has promised to the rest of the world.

In the coming months, the Environmental Protection Agency plans to enact stricter regulations to control methane, a potent greenhouse gas leaking from oil and gas wells.

Next year, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation plan to introduce a new rule designed to force auto companies to ramp up electric vehicle sales quickly.

The EPA is also planning new regulations to force electric utilities to cut their greenhouse gas emissions slightly, and possibly to install technology to capture and capture carbon dioxide pollution, although that nascent technology is not yet commercially viable.

The agency is also planning stricter limits on other pollution caused by power plants, such as mercury, smog and soot, that don’t contribute to global warming. The idea is that tackling those pollutants could have an added benefit of forcing electric utilities to clean up or shut down the dirtiest facilities, such as coal-fired power plants, that do produce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

“They used to have direct tools to combat climate change, and now they have smaller, indirect options,” said Michael Wara, a climate policy expert at Stanford University.

At the same time, Democrats haven’t given up hope of enacting some form of climate change or clean energy policy in Congress this year — which may be their last chance if Republicans win control of one or both chambers of Congress in the midterm elections. from Nov.

While Mr Manchin said last week he could not support climate legislation, which would have provided $300 billion in tax credits for wind and solar and electric vehicles, he later suggested in a radio interview that he would can reconsider. Those comments came after a year in which Mr. Manchin repeatedly suggested to Democrats that he would support their policies, only to back out. But some Democrats think they may be able to plug some modest expansions of existing clean energy tax incentives into a tax package expected to be approved with bipartisan support by the end of the year.

Declaring a national emergency would unlock a number of tools: Mr. Biden could reinstate the crude oil export ban lifted in 2015, halt offshore oil and gas drilling and cut both US fossil fuel exports and the billions of dollars to limit US investment in fossil fuels. fuel projects abroad. He could also direct the Federal Emergency Management Agency to fund the construction of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, and direct domestic private industries to produce more renewable energy and transportation technologies.

The president and the executive already have the authority to take most of those actions, but experts said the declaration of a climate emergency would streamline Mr Biden’s ability to quickly implement all those policies in one go.

In a survey by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communications this year, 58 percent of Americans surveyed said they would support a U.S. president who declares global warming a national emergency if Congress does not act.

New York Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic majority leader, urged Biden to declare a national climate emergency just a week after the president’s term. Last year, Senator Bernie Sanders and Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Earl Blumenauer introduced a bill directing the president to declare a national climate emergency.

The National Emergency Act, enacted nearly 50 years ago, requires presidents to formally declare a national emergency to activate special emergency powers, and imposes certain procedural formalities when invoking such powers. The idea was to enable the president to respond quickly to urgent, often unforeseen, crises.

Every president has since declared at least one national emergency during his term, and 41 are still in effect, according to the New York University School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice. President Biden invoked the law extending a national emergency over Covid-19 in February and banning Russian oil imports in March.

Some scholars warn that a national emergency declaration would be counterproductive and would be a damaging overspending on executive power.

Emergency powers “are never intended to address long-term problems, no matter how serious, and they are certainly not intended to provide long-term solutions,” said Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Freedom and National Security Program at the Brennan Center.

Oil industry leaders are already resisting the possibility of Mr Biden invoking new powers.

“Unily declaring a climate emergency will not cut emissions by one molecule,” Anne Bradbury, president of the American Exploration and Production Council, which represents independent oil and gas producers, said in a statement. “The only way to meaningfully reduce emissions is to work with all stakeholders, including the US oil and gas industry, on sustainable climate policies,” she said.

Emily Cochrane reporting contributed.