By Jeff Merkley, Oregon, Washington Post, Jan 2021, excerpt
The National Emergencies Act (NEA) and the Defense Production Act (DPA) give the president broad powers to act in the national interest during grave national emergencies. While President Barack Obama used the DPA to purchase green transportation fuels, neither of these acts has been fully used to address the climate emergency.
Declaring the climate crisis a national emergency under the NEA would not only send a powerful signal about the urgency of bold action, it would unlock powers that allow our nation to take significant, concrete actions regardless of congressional gridlock. Examples include redirecting spending to build out renewable energy systems, implementing large-scale clean transportation solutions and financing distributed energy projects to boost climate resiliency — all of which would help safeguard our communities and slash harmful pollution.
Invoking the DPA would complement a national emergency declaration and help address the national security threats posed by our climate crisis. These powers would allow the Biden administration to take essential steps toward strengthening our emergency preparedness, such as constructing resilient energy infrastructure and mobilizing domestic industry to ramp up manufacturing of clean energy technologies. These are necessary steps to protect Americans from the deluge of violent storms and extreme weather events that are on the horizon. Plus, spawning a robust clean energy industry could generate millions of high-quality American jobs vital to rejuvenating our post-covid economy.
I do not say any of this lightly. I’ve spent the past four years — and, frankly, several years before that — watching, worriedly, the increasing use of executive power and the sidelining of Congress. A president’s emergency powers should never be used wantonly. However, we cannot afford to shy away from tackling this crisis just because President Trump misused the NEA to fund the construction of his racist border wall.
I understand that many people may still feel trepidation about using these powers to address the climate crisis. However, we know that continuing on our current path will be catastrophic, and will hit working people the hardest. On the other hand, if we put in place the right policies, we can create millions of new jobs re-powering the country and cleaning our air.
And let’s not forget that millions of Americans voted for Biden because he promised climate action. Those voters will be demoralized and disillusioned in future elections if we sacrifice their health, livelihoods and futures to prop up fossil fuels. Substantively and politically, we cannot afford to be passive in the face of this crisis.
The climate crisis is one of the biggest emergencies that our country has ever faced, and our time is running out. Americans are counting on Biden to lead accordingly. Let’s act boldly, and treat this crisis like the emergency it is.