Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez seek 'climate emergency' declaration

·4 min read

WASHINGTON — With Democrats in charge of Congress and the White House, progressive lawmakers including Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are pushing the Biden administration to act ever more aggressively on climate change.

A week after President Joe Biden signed executive orders intended to combat the worst effects of global warming, Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez and other lawmakers urged him to go even further and declare a national emergency on climate change. Along with other liberal lawmakers, the independent Vermont senator and the New York Democratic congresswoman introduced legislation in the House and Senate that would direct Biden to declare a national climate emergency.

Such a declaration, similar to one issued by former President Donald Trump on construction of a southern border wall, would give Biden more power to combat global warming, including reinstating a ban on crude-oil exports and forcing companies to manufacture solar panels, electric-car charging stations and other elements of the so-called green economy.

The lawmakers introduced a similar resolution in 2019, but this time they have high-level support, including a recent statement by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer that Biden should consider declaring an emergency to take additional actions on climate.

“If there ever was an emergency, climate is one,'' the New York Democrat told MSNBC host Rachel Maddow last week, adding that an emergency declaration would give Biden “more flexibility.''

Unlike Trump's “stupid wall,'' climate change is a real crisis, Schumer said. “We have to do something about climate. We don’t have any more time.''

The bill requiring an emergency declaration faces an uphill road in the Senate, where a 60-vote threshold is needed. So far, just four senators have signed onto the bill, which faces stiff opposition from Republicans and likely resistance from moderate Democrats.

The White House declined to comment on the legislation.

Biden signed executive orders Jan. 27 pausing oil and gas leasing on federal land and targeting subsidies for those industries. The directives also aim to conserve 30 per cent of the country’s lands and waters in the next 10 years, double the nation’s offshore wind energy and move to an all-electric federal vehicle fleet, among other changes.

The sweeping plan is aimed at staving off the worst of global warming caused by burning fossil fuels. But it carries political risk for the president and Democrats as oil- and coal-producing states face likely job losses from moves to sharply increase U.S. reliance on clean energy such as wind and solar power.

Sanders said the climate emergency has long been clear.

“As we face the global crisis of climate change ... it is imperative that the United States lead the world in transforming our energy system away from fossil fuel to energy efficiency and sustainable energy,” Sanders said. “What we need now is congressional leadership to stand up to the fossil fuel industry and tell them that their short-term profits are not more important than the future of the planet.''

Ocasio-Cortez, a co-sponsor of the sprawling Green New Deal and, like Sanders, a hero of the progressive left, said in a statement that the U.S. has made progress since lawmakers introduced the emergency resolution nearly two years ago.

“But now we have to meet the moment,'' she said. “We are out of time and excuses. Our country is in crisis and to address it we will have to mobilize our social and economic resources on a massive scale. We have to start by calling this moment what it is: a national emergency.”

The legislation is supported by dozens of environmental groups that have pushed Biden to act quickly and aggressively on climate change.

“We are at a life-changing, civilization-altering moment in our history, as we face a climate crisis that demands a thunderous voice and a full mobilization of every sector to match its scale and its urgency,'' said Varshini Prakash, executive director of the Sunrise Movement, which helped draft the Green New Deal.

The emergency proposal “is a good sign that our leaders are finally understanding what young people and climate activists have been shouting from the rooftops for years: bold action must be done now to save our humanity and our future,'' she said.

But Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, the top Republican on the Senate energy panel, said declaring a climate emergency would effectively “muzzle Congress.''

Schumer and other Democrats “want the president to go it alone and produce more punishing regulations, raise energy costs and kill even more American jobs,'' Barrasso said.

Biden has set a goal of eliminating pollution from fossil fuel in the power sector by 2035 and from the U.S. economy overall by 2050, speeding what is already a market-driven growth of solar and wind energy and lessening the country’s dependence on oil and gas. The aggressive plan is aimed at slowing human-caused global warming that is magnifying extreme weather events such as deadly wildfires in the West and drenching rains and hurricanes in the East.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., authored the House climate bill. The Senate bill is co-sponsored by Democratic Sens. Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, both of Massachusetts.

Matthew Daly, The Associated Press