Two right-wing Democrats, Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Mark Kelly of Arizona, crossed the aisle Wednesday to help Republicans approve a motion aimed at barring President Joe Biden from declaring a climate emergency, a step that green groups have been pressuring him to take since his first day in office.
The nonbinding motion, sponsored by Sen. Shelley Capito (R-W.Va.) and approved by a vote of 49-47, states that Biden “cannot use climate change as the basis to declare a national emergency.” House and Senate lawmakers will consider the motion as part of their efforts to finalize legislation packed with subsidies to profitable microchip corporations.
It’s unclear whether lawmakers will ultimately include the climate emergency language in the final bill, but environmentalists voiced outrage at the motion’s passage as Manchin and Republicans continue to obstruct desperately needed congressional action to slash greenhouse gas emissions and bolster renewable energy production.
A separate motion instructing lawmakers to reject provisions that “prohibit development of an all-of-the-above energy portfolio” — which would include oil and gas production — also sailed through Wednesday by voice vote.
“Our political leadership is out to kill most of us,” Basav Sen, director of the Climate Justice Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, said in response to the vote. “Every branch of [the federal government] (executive, Congress, courts) is rotten to the core.”
“Manchin shouldn’t be voting on climate/energy issues, based on his glaring and obvious conflict of interest,” Sen added, alluding to the West Virginia Democrat’s stake in his family’s coal empire. “If we had a civilized system of government, he would be investigated for corruption, not heading the Senate energy committee.”
Kai Newkirk, a progressive activist based in Arizona, focused his ire on Kelly, who was a NASA astronaut before entering politics.
“An astronaut who’s seen the planet from outer space voting to remove one of the only tools we have to confront the climate crisis that isn’t blocked by the filibuster and Manchin’s corruption?” Newkirk wrote on Twitter. “This is an outrageous betrayal, Sen. Kelly. Shame on you.”
As the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) noted in a February report, a climate emergency declaration would empower Biden to take a number of steps to combat the planetary crisis without needing the approval of Congress, including immediately halting crude oil exports and boosting green energy manufacturing.
“Congress enacted emergency powers to allow the executive branch greater flexibility to respond to extraordinary events,” the report states. “The climate emergency is the pinnacle of extraordinary events faced in our lifetimes. Biden should lawfully use emergency powers to address this existential threat.”
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