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Biden could declare "climate emergency" to unlock executive powers as Congressional action stalls

President Biden could declare a national climate emergency this week to unlock certain executive powers and move forward with more aggressive policies to mitigate climate change.

The move comes as Congressional action has been held up by Senator Joe Manchin (the Democratic Senator from West Virginia who has deep ties to the coal industry) and Republicans in the Senate.

Several Democratic Senators including Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey, Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and others pushed Biden to make the move after Sen. Manchin declared that he could not support the economic package Biden and Congressional Democrats had tried to advance as part of a budget reconciliation agreement.

“The president made clear that if the Senate doesn’t act to tackle the climate crisis and strengthen our domestic clean energy industry, he will,” a White House official, who requested anonymity to describe the deliberations, told The Washington Post. “We are considering all options and no decision has been made.”

Scorching temperatures, caused by climate change, are blanketing the U.S. and Europe again, underscoring the implications of inaction.

Failure to support climate initiatives in the US could have broad implications for the nation's economy in the near-term, beyond the threat that natural disasters pose.

As the rest of the world races to embrace zero-emission technologies, the US could be left behind if businesses bringing solutions to market can't rely on the same government support as their international competitors.

“This is an important moment. There is probably nothing more important for our nation and our world than for the United States to drive a bold, energetic transition in its energy economy from fossil fuels to renewable energy,” Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) told reporters Monday.

Citing the impasse, Merkley added: “This also unchains the president from waiting for Congress to act.”

While emergency powers would allow the President to block crude oil exports and limit oil and gas drilling, it's more likely that Biden would use the emergency to direct agencies to boost renewable energy development.

With gas prices weighing on any policy decision, limiting supply could spook markets.

Some of federal agencies and the U.S. military have started changing policies to align more closely with executive orders issued by the Biden Administration.

Earlier this week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a statement about the work it's doing to use nature-based solutions in their construction and rehabilitation efforts.

“Engineering With Nature represents an approach to developing and operating a project, expanding the benefits gained by integrating the natural landscape into the engineering design,” said Dr. Todd Bridges, U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) senior research scientist for environmental sciences and national EWN program lead.

“Over the last five years, natural hazards, such as floods and storms, produced more than $10 billion in damages to Department of Defense (DOD) installations,” Bridges said. “The complex DOD mission necessitates resilient infrastructure systems requiring innovative action. EWN is leading the way to harness the power of nature to support mission resilience.”

Encouraging this kind of work through executive orders is one thing, but declaring a climate emergency would give President Biden broader leeway to act.

It was the declaration of an emergency at the border that allowed the Trump Administration to proceed with the construction of its border wall.

And even Biden's executive efforts will be no substitute for the over $500 billion boost to new technologies and industries that were part of the Build Back Better Act that Sen. Manchin and Senate Republicans have blocked.

That's why Ron Wyden, the Democratic Senator from Oregon, continues to call for legislative action, despite the obstacles from Republicans and the party's own caucus in the Senate.

“While I strongly support additional executive action by President Biden, we know a flood of Republican lawsuits will follow,” Wyden told The Washington Post. “Legislation continues to be the best option here. The climate crisis is the issue of our time and we should keep our options open.”

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