Lawmakers and climate groups are pleading with the White House to do more to avert future climate-related disasters as Vice President Joe Biden prepares to visit Maui, the Hawaiian island destroyed by the biggest wildfire in modern U.S. history.
They claimed that nothing short of a major environmental disaster would motivate the president to take action.
Last week, at least 110 people were killed and the famous town of Lahaina was left in smouldering ashes when fires swept over the Pacific paradise, possibly ignited by the island’s electric company and amplified by the affects of climate change. Climate activists and members of Congress are pressing Biden to declare a national emergency over climate change as survivors hunt for lost loved ones and a housing crisis looms in the wake of the widespread destruction.
The White House has been pressured to take action before the president’s scheduled visit to the island disaster site on Monday. The ongoing crisis in Hawaii and a string of climate events this summer, including this weekend’s first-ever tropical storm warning for southern California, have amplified the appeals.
I still use phrases like “I want to make sure my children have clean air and water — that they have running water” when discussing this topic with others. That they inherit a planet that is habitable when they reach my age. No, you can’t say that. The Green New Deal Network’s national director, Kaniela Ing, a seventh-generation indigenous Hawaiian from Maui, warned that people could wake up tomorrow to find their entire town reduced to ashes.
Adding, “that’s the urgency we’re operating under,” he said, “so if there was ever a moment to declare a climate emergency, it is right now.”
Many of Biden’s Congressional allies, as well as climate groups, have urged him to declare a national emergency, giving the president broad authority to do things like curb greenhouse gas production, roll out comprehensive clean transportation solutions, and fund distributed energy projects.
The destruction on Maui should serve as an urgent warning for the president to declare a climate emergency. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) told HEADLINESFOREVER that while FEMA is helping local heroes on the ground save lives and restore livelihoods, “underlying climate-driven conditions of drought, extreme heat, environmental injustice, and non-resilient infrastructure will remain.”
Oregon Democrat Earl Blumenauer has been pushing for this action for some time now, asking, “what is?” if the destruction in Hawaii isn’t a national emergency.
I refuse to accept that people are now routinely deciding to either set themselves on fire or leap into the water and drown for hours on end. We must proceed as though this were a true emergency. The first step in this direction is for Vice President Biden to declare a national climate emergency, which would free up massive federal resources and emergency authorities to aid local communities in their efforts to prepare for and recover from these devastating climate calamities.
For an incumbent president entering an election year, declaring a climate emergency might have electoral repercussions, including further increasing already skyrocketing petrol prices. Moreover, the conservative Supreme Court has already concluded that the Environmental Protection Agency does not have extensive authority to reign in carbon pollution, so any executive action Biden takes would certainly face legal challenges.
But environmentalists and lawmakers are pressing the president to be bold in the face of the latest catastrophe, claiming that doing so will also reap political dividends among disillusioned young voters and communities of colour, which have been hit harder by climate change.
Polls show that many Americans are unfamiliar with the Inflation Reduction Act, the largest climate-focused investment in U.S. history. However, news stories about climate change have been nonstop, and Vice President Biden’s approval of the Willow oil drilling project in Alaska sparked strong opposition earlier this year. According to Ing, sending a message to these people by declaring a climate emergency is possible.
And if he did it in Hawaii next week, you can bet I’d be there with him. If I found out, I’d tell everyone I know. I would continue to advocate for him all the way through November. The risks are too great to do otherwise. We have one final shot at this. We have six years to accelerate the transition and begin decarbonizing at the necessary rate. In other words, “this election is it,” he declared.
Despite the president’s earlier this month claim that he had “practically” declared a climate emergency, the White House has thus far refused to commit to making such a declaration.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre stated last week that Trump has declared the climate situation an emergency from “day one,” and that Vice President Joe Biden has used the Defence Production Act to speed up production of heat pumps and the construction of the electric grid. He has also used the DPA to establish solar manufacturing and secure supplies for EVs.
Jean-Pierre said on Monday that the president is “doing everything that he can to make sure that we are dealing with this… in a way that actually leads to results” in the face of the “existential threat,” the climate change crisis. And the president plans to keep doing it.
She also brought up the Inflation Reduction Act’s (IRA) one-year anniversary, which the White House commemorated by investing in fighting climate change.
The enactment of the first climate law in the country is what Evan Weber, a co-founder of the Sunrise Movement, considers to be his greatest accomplishment in life. This is largely due to the efforts of the Sunrise Movement and other climate organisations.
Weber, who is from Oahu, has been helping with recovery efforts there as his friends in Lahaina are looking for loved ones. Weber, who formed the group Our Hawai’i with two others, said it hurt to see the anniversary celebration in Washington this week while his state burned and survivors supplied DNA swabs to identify the remains of their loved ones.
The Inflation Reduction Act, a bipartisan infrastructure initiative, is frequently referred to by the president and his cabinet members as “once-in-a-generation investments.” Weber speculated that there might be more Lahainas in the future because of Biden’s climate initiatives, and he was right. However, “we also really need him to know that just being the greatest president on climate action in United States history is the lowest bar in the world to clear,” and “is not the same as acting at the scale that science and the reality of our people on the ground demands.”
According to Ing, the community in Hawaii is looking forward to Biden’s arrival because the federal response has been so effective. President Trump wasted little time issuing a massive disaster proclamation: Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Deanne Criswell told reporters on Saturday that more than 1,000 federal responders are currently stationed in Maui and Oahu, and that the government has offered over $7 million in financial aid to over 2,200 people.
Sixty percent of the damaged region has been checked as of Saturday afternoon, and there are 450 search and rescue workers on the scene. Criswell added that the number of people staying in shelters is decreasing as a result of FEMA, the Red Cross, and the state paying for people to move from shelters to hotels.
Criswell noted that specifics of the president’s trip are still being worked out, so it is unclear if Biden will fly over the route of destruction or conduct ground surveys of the damage.
According to Criswell, the president has promised to give Hawaii “everything it needs” and plans to meet with those who have been personally impacted on Monday. Activists are hoping that the president’s commitment would include a formal climate emergency declaration once he visits Maui and hears from the people there.
“It’s all coming to a head, and we’re just at a moment now where this makes the most sense,” said Michele Weindling, electoral director at Sunrise. When considering all of the available information, “Biden declaring a climate emergency official is the no-brainer choice.”