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President Biden announced climate actions, but didn't declare a climate emergency

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

President Biden entered office vowing to step up the country's efforts to slow down climate change. He set targets that would avert the worst effects of the climate crisis. But the Democratic-led Congress has not taken the actions that Biden says is necessary to get there, so the president spoke in Massachusetts today about the steps he's taking to address his climate concerns.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: As president, I have a responsibility to act with urgency and resolve when our nation faces clear and present danger. And that's what climate change is about. It is literally, not figuratively, a clear and present danger.

SUMMERS: He also visited the state's last coal-fired power plant, which is being turned into a factory for offshore wind. But the president stopped short of declaring a climate emergency, as many advocates and some Democratic lawmakers are pressing him to do.

White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez joins us with details. Franco, what actions did President Biden take today?

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Well, Juana, one thing he's doing is pushing alternative energy sources. The plant he's visiting today makes undersea cables that will eventually bring power from wind turbines in the Atlantic Ocean all the way to the electric grid. And he's using the plant as an example that these efforts are not only important for the environment, but arguing that it also makes economic sense.

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BIDEN: We have to outcompete China and in the world and make these technologies here in the United States, not have to import them. Folks, when I think about climate change, and I've been saying this for three years, I think jobs.

ORDOÑEZ: Now, he says the actions will also increase manufacturing and strengthen supply chains. He's also announcing $2.3 billion in additional funding for FEMA to help local communities facing extreme heat and additional support for the Department of Health and Human Services to help families with energy costs.

SUMMERS: Franco, as we mentioned, the president has been under pressure to declare a climate emergency. He did not do that today. What are you hearing from your sources from the White House about all of that?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, the White House says that an emergency declaration is not off the table. There had been reports that the president does not want to further antagonize Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who has blocked much of Biden's climate agenda. But today, Biden suggested that he was ready to take that kind of action.

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BIDEN: Let me be clear - climate change is an emergency. And in the coming weeks, I'm going to use the power I have as president to turn these words into formal, official government actions.

ORDOÑEZ: And in a call with reporters, White House officials said to expect several additional announcements on this issue this week.

SUMMERS: OK. So practically speaking, what would declaring a climate emergency actually empower the president to do?

ORDOÑEZ: You know, what it would do is allow him to use presidential powers to put more restrictions on fossil fuels. He could stop oil drilling, for example. And he could ramp up clean energy projects like the one he's promoting today. But let's also remember that opponents could, and they likely would, try to block some of these measures in the courts. And regarding fossil fuels, given the state of oil markets and high gas prices and how it's really fueling inflation, it's kind of unlikely that there will be much clamping down on fossil fuels, at least in the near future.

SUMMERS: Franco, in the time that we have left, I wonder, what are the political considerations for President Biden while addressing the climate crisis?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, according to a new NPR/PBS/Marist poll, the president is really struggling with his base. He's facing his lowest approval numbers since taking office, and that's largely due to a drop in support among Democrats. And the White House has really taken notice.

SUMMERS: OK.

ORDOÑEZ: And the actions today are clearly an effort to address the concerns of the base.

SUMMERS: NPR's White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez, thanks so much.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.
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