On July 20, 2022, President Joe Biden traveled to a former coal-burning power plant in Massachusetts that is being converted into a manufacturing site for offshore wind power equipment. Biden announced millions of dollars in funding for climate change measures, including upgrading infrastructure, weatherizing buildings and installing cooling in homes. He also touted job growth from clean energy production and pledged to use all of his executive power to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
But Biden did not declare a national climate emergency – a step that some Democratic officials and activists have urged after Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin seemingly blocked legislative action and the Supreme Court limited the Environmental Protection Agency’s power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
According to White House officials, an emergency declaration remains an option. As a legal scholar who has analyzed the limits of presidential power, I believe that declaring climate change to be a national emergency could have benefits, but also poses risks.
Taking that route sets an important precedent. If presidents increasingly make free use of emergency powers to achieve policy goals, this approach could become the new normal – with a serious potential for abuse of power and ill-considered decisions.