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Biden Says He’s “Practically” Declared Climate Emergency — But He Hasn’t

“Practically speaking, Biden has devastated communities and wildlife,” one frustrated climate advocate said.

President Joe Biden waves toward visitors watching the departure as he walks to Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House July 28, 2023, in Washington, D.C.

Climate advocates are frustrated after President Joe Biden waved away the myriad calls for him to declare a climate emergency on Wednesday, refusing to use the full extent of his executive powers to combat the climate crisis.

When asked about calls for him to declare a climate emergency in an interview with the Weather Channel, Biden falsely said that he has “already done that,” citing land conservation efforts, the Paris Accords and the Inflation Reduction Act. Later, he clarified that he has not actually declared a climate emergency, but said that, “practically speaking,” he has.

The fact remains, however, that Biden has not declared a climate emergency, much to the chagrin of the thousands of climate groups, experts and members of his own party who have called on him to do so. Though White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that Biden was referring to his invocation of the Defense Production Act (DPA) for clean energy manufacturing, the actions that Biden and the White House are referring to still do not add up to a declaration of climate emergency.

Climate advocates have time and again called for a climate emergency declaration, which would unlock a wide range of authority and funding that Biden could use to combat the crisis, like banning crude oil exports and halting offshore drilling.

Advocates were deeply frustrated by Biden’s comment.

“President Biden, if I may presume to speak on behalf of climate scientists, parents, young people, and other species such as corals and trees, I beg you — I literally beg you — to formally declare a climate emergency. Too few realize it yet, but we now risk losing everything,” NASA climate scientist Peter Kalmus, who emphasized that he was not speaking on behalf of his employer, said in an email to Truthout. Kalmus recently wrote an essay for The Guardian sounding the alarm about the Biden administration’s continued pursuit of fossil fuels and the need for a climate emergency declaration.

“More fossil fuels means more heat, more disasters, more food shortages, more instability, more peril. I know it’s not easy, but please be the visionary leader humanity needs. Lead us out of peril, not further into it,” Kalmus continued. “Start by declaring a climate emergency, for real, and don’t stop there.”

Though Biden touted actions like the U.S.’s emissions reduction pledge for the Paris Climate Accords — which the U.S. is on track to fall far short of anyway — the Biden administration has also been approving oil and gas drilling at an even faster rate than President Donald Trump did, and has been approving “carbon bomb” projects to open up even more land to drilling.

Meanwhile, the White House has confirmed that Biden will not declare a climate emergency — yet another knife in the side of the climate movement on top of a pile of broken promises like his pledge for no new drilling on federal lands, “period, period, period.”

“Biden has, in fact, failed to declare a climate emergency under the National Emergencies Act, failed to harness his executive powers, and failed to take lifesaving action to end fossil fuels,” Center for Biological Diversity Climate Law Institute Director Kassie Siegel said in a statement.

“Practically speaking, Biden has devastated communities and wildlife by backing disastrous carbon bombs from Alaska to Appalachia. But the president can still become the leader we need by declaring a climate emergency for real,” Siegel said. “The world is waiting for him to use all his emergency and ordinary powers to phase out the fossil fuels broiling our planet.”

Jim Walsh, policy director for Food and Water Watch, which has joined calls for Biden to declare a climate emergency along with groups like Center for Biological Diversity, also criticized Biden’s statement.

“If President Biden recognizes we have a climate emergency, he has a funny way of showing it. His administration continues to move in the wrong direction by expanding fossil fuel drilling and exports, while embracing industry carbon capture and offset schemes,” Walsh said in a statement to Truthout. “We need President Biden to declare a climate emergency and take meaningful action to quickly phase out fossil fuels, instead of giving the lip service to the climate crisis while making it worse.”

Biden has done this before. Last year, Biden announced a series of measures to combat heat-related illnesses in the workplace, saying that the climate crisis is “an emergency, and I will look at it that way.” But despite that rhetoric, he stopped short of declaring an actual emergency at the time.

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