Despite SCOTUS EPA ruling, Biden has options to deal with climate crisis

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As President Joe Biden moves closer to declaring a national emergency over climate change, environmental advocates warn the move won’t have a major impact unless the administration backs it with pledges. aggressive action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.

The president has a limited range of options to tackle climate change on his own, especially following a Supreme Court ruling last month that limited the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate emissions from coal-fired power plants. The collapse of a potential climate deal in Congress this month also dealt a blow to Biden’s climate agenda.

But if Biden combines an emergency declaration with far-reaching executive actions, he can still make significant headway on one of his signature issues, climate advocates and environmental law experts have said.

“There’s still a tremendous amount of climate progress Biden can make,” said Collin Rees, U.S. program manager for advocacy group Oil Change International. “But it’s going to take commitment and more than rhetoric.”

Invoking a declaration of emergency for climate change would not be merely symbolic. The National Emergencies Act of 1976 gives a president 136 different emergency powers once a statement is made, some of which could be applied to climate-related issues.

After declaring a climate emergency, Biden could invoke the Defense Production Act to free up federal funds to mitigate climate risks and spur public and private sector investment in clean energy. The measures would build on some of Biden’s previous executive actions on climate change and the clean energy provisions of the infrastructure bill passed by Congress last year.

The president could go further by blocking oil, gas and liquefied natural gas exports and banning offshore drilling. These moves, however, would be controversial and unlikely given the high cost of gas in the United States and energy supply problems in Europe caused by the Russian war in Ukraine.

While climate advocates argue that banning domestic fossil fuel exports would not have a significant impact on American consumers, Biden would face intense criticism from Republicans at a time when inflation and high gasoline prices are top of mind for many voters ahead of the midterm elections.

US President Joe Biden delivers remarks on COVID-19 in the Rose Garden of the White House on July 27, 2022 in Washington, DC.
Getty Images/Anna Moneymaker

Biden did not declare a national emergency in a climate speech last week in Massachusetts, as many activists had hoped. But he said his administration was looking at what steps it could take to address the issue. John Kerry, Biden’s international climate envoy, told The New York Times that the administration is “very close” to making the statement, and decides when to announce the measure.

If Biden makes an emergency declaration, it will be heavily criticized by Republicans, who have long opposed federal action on climate change, and could lead to legal challenges. This could reflect a similar battle in 2019, when Democrats sued former President Donald Trump on its declaration of national emergency to build a wall on the southern border of the United States.

Supporters have argued that the administration should press ahead with climate efforts regardless of the political consequences.

“What’s important now is real action to protect our families, communities and businesses from the worsening climate crisis,” said Alexandra Adams, senior director of federal affairs at the Natural Resources Defense Council. . Newsweek.

Biden should redouble efforts to increase clean energy generation on public lands, make buildings more energy efficient and reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels, Adams added.

“President Biden needs to make sure our government is part of the climate solution,” she said.

Lindsey Baxter Griffith, director of federal policy for the Clean Air Task Force, said Biden has other tools at his disposal besides the disaster declaration that could be used to regulate existing sources of pollution, particularly emissions. of methane.

Last November, the Biden administration announced plans to regulate methane from oil and gas operations. The plan to regulate methane, a potent greenhouse gas, was proposed by the Obama administration, but the effort was reversed by former President Donald Trump. Griffith said it was one of the most important steps Biden could take on his own.

“There’s nothing in the West Virginia v. EPA case that jeopardizes that,” she said of the administration’s methane rule. “There’s still a lot the EPA is going to be able to do.”

Oil rig
Environmental advocates are urging the Biden administration to advance plans to regulate methane emissions from oil and gas drilling.
George Rose/Getty Images

In the ruling, the Supreme Court effectively struck down former President Barack Obama’s key domestic policy on climate change, an EPA rule known as the Clean Power Plan that sought to limit emissions from power plants. .

But the Clean Power Plan has been stalled in court and abandoned by the Trump administration, and Biden has focused on other climate policies rather than trying to revive Obama’s proposal.

The decision also narrowly centered on a provision of the plan that encouraged states to switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy. In his majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts said the ruling does not prevent the EPA from regulating emissions generally, leaving the door open for future climate-related regulations by the agency.

But Roberts invoked the “major issues doctrine,” writing that Congress had not given the EPA clear authority to enact regulations that would have major political or economic consequences. The decision signaled that broad climate action will have to go through new laws passed by Congress, not the EPA’s powers granted to the agency under the Clean Air Act, said Katrina Fischer Kuh, a professor of environmental law at Pace University.

“The Supreme Court is very unlikely to approve interpretations of the Clean Air Act that would allow the EPA to use it as the centerpiece of an overall federal climate policy,” Kuh said.

Climate advocates and others have acknowledged a declaration of national emergency and any new executive climate actions announced by Biden will still fall short of congressional legislation in Congress, along the lines of climate spending the president has proposed in its original Build Back Better plan.

“We will still need clean energy tax credits and big congressional spending if we are to meet the commitments we have to the international climate community over the next decade,” Griffith said.

But that doesn’t mean Biden shouldn’t do everything in his power to act now, Rees said. He added that the president would be making a mistake if he adapted his climate program to possible legal challenges in the country’s High Court.

The argument that ‘the Supreme Court could stop him’ is a terrible way to govern,” Rees said. “We would never do anything,” Rees said. “Biden needs to pull out all the stops and leverage his authority executive.

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