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Climate activists scoff at Biden’s new heat tracking website, demand climate emergency declaration

A new government website aimed at educating people on the dangers of severe heat came online Tuesday, adding to the raft of recent announcements by the White House as it responds to the recent political failures around its green agenda.

The heat.gov site tracks severe heat while offering data and information on how people can stay safe. Currently, around 40 million people are living in areas of extreme heat. A week ago, that figure was almost 150 million people as a heat wave swept over large parts of the country.

But climate activists say the current strategy falls way short of what’s needed to tackle many of the root causes of severe heat and other serious climate change issues faced by people throughout the country.

“Everything that is being done is inadequate,” said Anne Rolfes, Director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, a non-profit environmental group primarily focusing on the abundance of petrochemical plants in Louisiana. “From the recent Supreme Court decision to congressional inaction to the administration’s ongoing permitting of more petrochemical facilities.”

She added: “If the [Biden] administration is serious about acting on climate, it should cease the expansion and construction of petrochemical and gas facilities. Federal agencies have this power, and they should use it.”

Rolfes is not alone. Calls for Biden to declare a climate emergency have been ongoing since he became president and are now worldwide. Since President Trump pulled out of the Paris Agreement in June 2017, there have been fears that the global green energy movement could lose momentum without the U.S.Those fears are still present.

Congressional action on climate change has been repeatedly stymied by climate-denying lawmakers, let alone deciding how or when to reduce the amount of deadly greenhouse gas emissions in one of the world’s largest polluting countries.

Nearly two weeks have passed since U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, a conservative Democrat from West Virginia finally scuttled the President’s Build Back Better green agenda. And it’s been about a month since the Supreme Court quelled the power of the Environmental Protection Agency by limiting its ability to curb emissions at power plants.

In response to the double blow, the president announced a $2.3 billion mitigation strategy to help communities with the increasing threat of severe heat, drought, and floods. The announcement also included new wind energy leases in the Gulf of Mexico.”As president, I have the responsibility to act with urgency and resolve when our nation faces clear and present danger. And that’s what climate change is about,” Biden said. “It is literally — not figuratively — a clear and present danger.”

More announcements are expected this week.

Congressional staffers staged a protest outside Sen. Chuck Schumer’s office while activists and their children gathered outside the home of White House Chief of Staff Ronald Klain.

They are demanding one thing that many believe would get around the climate change impasse: for the President to declare a climate emergency.

Doing so would give him additional powers enabling a more aggressive and proactive approach.

Here’s how declaring an emergency would help address climate change, according to a February 2022 climate emergency legal report by the Center for Biological Diversity, a national nonprofit environmental group that works to secure a future for all species.

Crude Oil

The first thing the President could do is halt crude oil exports. Halting crude oil exports would lower greenhouse gas emissions by 165 metric tons annually, equivalent to closing around 20% of existing coal plants in the country.

Next up, stop oil and gas drilling in the outer continental shelf

If you live on the Gulf Coast, you know how dangerous oil and gas drilling can be. The BP oil spill ravaged communities and damaged natural resources along the Gulf coast. Estimates of losses to the natural environment are around $17 billion, while job and revenue losses amount to 22,000 and $8.7 billion, respectively. The spill cost BP nearly $70 billion in criminal and civil fines. Pulling the plug on drilling leases would stop extraction in 11 million acres of federal waters.

“The United States is the world’s largest oil and gas producer, second largest coal producer, and a dominant driver of global fossil fuel expansion,” noted the report. “In total, the U.S. fossil fuel industry is on track to account for 60% of the world’s projected growth in oil and gas production this decade.”

Restrict International Trade and Private Investment in Fossil Fuels

Stopping the import and export of fossil fuel exports would drastically lower the nation’s emissions and halt hundreds of billions of dollars of overseas fossil fuel projects.

Currently, the U.S. is among one of the world’s top petroleum (crude oil) exporters, amounting to 3.1 billion barrels a year. In addition to the emissions created by drilling for petroleum, the export and final use will also create pollution in whatever country imports it. Petroleum can be used as fuel, but it’s also widely used to manufacture chemicals, plastics, and other synthetic materials.

Use the Defense Production Act for domestic manufacturing to grow the clean energy and transportation sectors

The Defense Production Act’s powers are usually for manufacturing weapons of war. But more recently, they have also been used for vaccines, personal protection equipment, and other medical supplies to fight against covid. Under a climate emergency, Biden would use these powers to clean up the country’s most polluting sectors: electricity production and transportation.

The Biden administration has concluded that climate change threatens “national security and defense” because it is “reshaping the geostrategic, operational, and tactical environments” for the United States and is “exacerbating existing risks and creating new security challenges for U.S. interests.”

Use FEMA to build resilient and renewable energy systems in climate-vulnerable communities

The White House has already said that FEMA is pivoting from an agency that responds to disasters to an agency that can help prevent them.

“By directing a large proportion of this funding toward pre-disaster mitigation and building clean, resilient, efficient energy systems — prioritizing underserved communities that bear the brunt of climate harm and that have been historically neglected — the president and FEMA can help reduce emissions, better prepare communities to withstand future climate disasters, realize the Biden administration’s Justice40 goals, and redress historical patterns of environmental racism in FEMA’s relief work,” according to the report.

Christopher Harress

Christopher Harress | charress@reckonmedia.com

Climate change reporter on the east and Gulf coasts.

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