The legislation, introduced by Senators Bernie Sanders and Jeff Merkley and Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Earl Blumenauer on Thursday, would require President Joe Biden to declare a national emergency on climate change. That would give the administration more power to take on the existential threat, including deploying the necessary resources to do so.
“The massive scope and scale of action necessary to stabilize the climate will require unprecedented levels of public awareness, engagement, and deliberation to develop and implement effective, just, and equitable policies to address the climate crisis,” the act says.
The bill would compel the Biden administration to invoke the National Emergencies Act. Doing so would unlock the power to draw on nearly 140 statutes, according to research by the Brennan Center for Justice. Policies that currently get tied up in Congressional votes or funding battles would suddenly become immediately possible, including reinstituting the nation’s ban on crude oil exports, sending emergency environmental aid packages to states by using the Stafford Act, or reallocating billions of dollars from the U.S. military budget toward renewable energy construction.
As the bill notes, the U.S. has a history of mobilizing huge swaths of resources to “solve great challenges” of all kinds, from the the post-civil war Reconstruction to the Apollo 11 Moon landing. And like the 2019 Green New Deal resolution, which each of the new act’s four co-sponsors signed onto, the legislation draws a comparison between necessary climate policies and the action needed to address World War II.
The legislation’s introduction follows a statement on MSNBC last month from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer calling for Biden to declare a climate emergency to afford himself more flexibility on climate policy, and a similar call from Sen. Jeff Merkley in a December Washington Post op-ed. Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez also introduced a similar resolution in 2019 pushing Congress to make climate change an official national emergency.
Actually racking up the 60 votes needed to pass it and shield the new legislation from the filibuster would still be a super long shot. After all, naysayers like Republican Sen. John Barrasso claim that declaring a climate emergency is an undemocratic way to “muzzle Congress.” And even if it passed, it’s sure to face legal challenges, just as the Trump administration’s declaration of a national emergency to fund a border wall did.
There are also valid questions about the efficacy of climate emergency declarations, because though they open up the possibility of implementing urgent policies, they don’t necessitate it. Globally, more than 1,870 governments—albeit, mostly local and state ones, but also nearly 40 national ones—have raised climate change to the level of an emergency. But despite making flashy declarations of this kind, countries like Canada and Norway have still approved fossil fuel infrastructure expansion. But since the Biden administration has promised to make climate policy a major priority, that shouldn’t be a problem here, right?