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Schumer Calls on Biden to Declare a Climate Emergency as Ice Loss Accelerates

Declaring a climate emergency allows Biden to allocate funding to clean energy and suspend activities like oil drilling.

President Joe Biden arrives to speak about the economy before signing executive orders in the State Dining Room at the White House on January 22, 2021, in Washington, D.C.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) called on President Joe Biden to declare the climate crisis a national emergency, echoing calls that other Democratic lawmakers and activists have been making in past months and years.

“I think it might be a good idea for President Biden to call a climate emergency,” said Schumer on MSNBC on Monday. “Then he can do many, many things under the emergency powers of the president that he could do without legislation. Now, [Donald] Trump used this emergency for his stupid wall, which wasn’t an emergency. But if there ever was an emergency, climate is one.”

The emergency declaration would allow Biden to direct funds to clean energy projects and suspend activities like oil drilling and crude oil exports.

Schumer has now joined a cohort of Democrats who are calling the climate crisis an emergency like the over 100 Democrats who introduced a House Resolution in 2019. He also joins over 380 climate groups that, in December, called on Biden to issue an executive order declaring an emergency over the climate crisis.

If Biden were to do so, he would be joining 38 other countries and over 100 local U.S. cities and counties in declaring a national emergency on climate. Though, as Grist points out, Biden refers to the climate crisis as an emergency in speeches and documents, he has yet to formally declare one using his presidential powers.

Schumer’s call comes as a new study finds that the globe is losing ice at an alarming and record rate — with a worsening feedback loop on ice melt, the loss is now in line with the worst-case scenarios modelled by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

With a top Democrat calling for decisive action from Biden on climate and with the momentum gained by activists in the last years but stymied by the Trump administration, the pressure is on for Biden to take bold action on climate. In 2019. Schumer vowed to keep climate in his sights amid new waves of climate activism and excitement over the introduction of the Green New Deal — a vow that is reflective of the growing numbers of people in the U.S. who say they are alarmed by climate change.

So far, for the climate community, Biden’s first week has been relatively promising. Thanks to growing pressure from climate activists, he has signed executive orders fulfilling some of his promises on climate, such as rejoining the Paris agreement and axing the long-protested Keystone XL pipeline, which was killed by Barack Obama and revived by Trump. On Monday, Biden also announced that as part of his “Buy American” executive order, he plans to replace all of the federal government’s vehicles with electric vehicles.

Biden is also planning to begin exploring a ban on oil and gas drilling and, on Wednesday, will issue a memorandum making the climate crisis a national security emergency; create commissions and positions focusing on environmental justice and jobs; and create a task force to come up with a greenhouse gas emissions reduction plan for the government.

Democrats are looking forward to more action in Congress on climate. Schumer said on Monday that the party is looking into using budget reconciliation to pass climate legislation by a simple majority in the Senate. The new Democratic majority opens a window of opportunity for the federal government to pass sweeping climate legislation.

As Biden settles into the White House, climate groups are also looking forward to continuing to push the president on climate so that the U.S. can reach ambitious emissions reductions and other measures to help stop and reverse the climate crisis. During his presidential campaign, Biden faced criticism from climate activists who said that his hiring staff with connections to the oil and gas industry will be roadblocks to progress on climate policy.

Biden has come a long way on climate thanks to activists, but even just to reverse the damage Trump did to the environment, he still has many hurdles to overcome. During his presidency, Trump rolled back over 100 environmental rules, which experts say could take years for Biden to restore. Still, the climate community is calling for an ambitious agenda and pushing for Biden to implement parts of the Green New Deal, and fulfill international obligations to offset emissions through the Paris agreement.

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