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What Would a Climate Emergency Mean? Here Are 4 Key Points.

This is what it could look like if President Biden decides to take that step.

Emergency power is a special, temporary authority that a president can invoke in a crisis. The idea is to enable the president to respond quickly to urgent, often unforeseen, circumstances by essentially creating exceptions to the rules that usually limit the country’s leader.

The National Emergency Act, which came into effect nearly 50 years ago, requires presidents to formally declare an emergency to activate special emergency powers and impose certain procedural formalities when invoking such powers. Every president has since declared at least one national emergency during his term, and 41 are still in effect today, according to a report from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.

The extensions of the executive branch are specific and limited. Another Brennan Center Report Identified 123 legal powers that may be available to the President, without further input from Congress, when declaring a national emergency. In addition, there are 13 that require Congressional emergency declaration.

Mr Biden could reintroduce the ban on crude oil exports, which was overturned in 2015, which could cut greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 165 million tons a year, equivalent to closing 42 coal-fired power plants, according to the report. a joint study by the interest groups Greenpeace and Oil Change International.

He could also stop new oil and gas drilling on more than 11 million acres of federal waters. Environmentalists have pressured the Biden administration to ban drilling across the entire outer continental shelf, but Biden has remained cautious on that front to avoid alienating the fossil fuel industry and Republicans who blame his climate policies for the high prices at gas stations. Most energy experts say the recent rising gas prices are the result of the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, which has disrupted energy markets.

The Biden administration can already do this under another law, the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, which requires the Department of the Interior to issue a plan for new oil and gas leases in federal waters every five years. This month, the Biden administration released its latest plan, proposing a menu of options, including terminating oil and gas leases in the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic Oceans, but allowing new lease sales for drilling in the Gulf. of Mexico and Cook Inlet in Alaska.

The authority of the National Emergencies Act would also allow Mr. Biden to curb fossil fuel imports and exports and stop hundreds of billions of dollars of US investment in fossil fuel projects abroad, according to a 2022 report from the Center for Biological Diversity.

Outside of the National Emergency Act, Mr. Biden has other options. First, he could direct US private companies to build more renewable energy and clean transportation technologies under the Defense Production Act. His administration already appealed to the law last month increase production of solar panels, insulation and heat pumps.

Declaring a national emergency would free up federal funds and other disaster relief resources earmarked by Congress under the Stafford Act. The Federal Emergency Management Agency would automatically be empowered to coordinate those resources, which some experts say could be used to support the construction of renewable energy systems, particularly in the low-income and minority communities most vulnerable to climate disasters.

Some scholars warn that declaring the climate a national emergency would overreach the executive. In the past, emergency powers have been overwhelmingly used to impose sanctions on foreign groups and officials as punishment for human rights violations or terrorism, or in response to public health crises and disasters. In February, Biden extended a national emergency over Covid-19, and in March he declared a state of emergency when he halted Russian oil imports.

Emergency powers were never intended to provide long-term solutions to intractable problems, even one as urgent as the climate crisis, said Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Freedom and National Security Program at the Brennan Center. The dangerous precedent it would set outweighs the benefits, which would be limited, she said.

“We need Congress” to tackle climate change, Ms Goitein said. “Issuing an emergency declaration for the express purpose of bypassing Congress is not an appropriate use of emergency powers in our constitutional system.” It also leaves lawmakers off the hook, she said.

But some climate advocates emphasize the existential nature of climate change and its consequences.

“This is an unprecedented emergency,” said Jean Su, senior attorney and director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Energy Justice program. “If this isn’t what you’re deploying your emergency forces for, then nothing is.”

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