January 31, 2023

The Biden administration can already do this under another law, the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, which requires the Department of the Interior to issue a plan for new oil and gas leases in federal waters every five years. This month, the Biden administration released its latest plan, proposing a menu of options, including terminating oil and gas leases in the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic Oceans, but allowing new lease sales for drilling in the Gulf. of Mexico and Cook Inlet in Alaska.

The authority of the National Emergencies Act would also allow Mr. Biden to curb fossil fuel imports and exports and stop hundreds of billions of dollars of US investment in fossil fuel projects abroad, according to a 2022 report from the Center for Biological Diversity.

Outside of the National Emergency Act, Mr. Biden has other options. First, he could direct US private companies to build more renewable energy and clean transportation technologies under the Defense Production Act. His administration already appealed to the law last month increase production of solar panels, insulation and heat pumps.

Declaring a national emergency would free up federal funds and other disaster relief resources earmarked by Congress under the Stafford Act. The Federal Emergency Management Agency would automatically be empowered to coordinate those resources, which some experts say could be used to support the construction of renewable energy systems, particularly in the low-income and minority communities most vulnerable to climate disasters.

Some scholars warn that declaring the climate a national emergency would overreach the executive. In the past, emergency powers have been overwhelmingly used to impose sanctions on foreign groups and officials as punishment for human rights violations or terrorism, or in response to public health crises and disasters. In February, Biden extended a national emergency over Covid-19, and in March he declared a state of emergency when he halted Russian oil imports.

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Emergency powers were never intended to provide long-term solutions to intractable problems, even one as urgent as the climate crisis, said Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Freedom and National Security Program at the Brennan Center. The dangerous precedent it would set outweighs the benefits, which would be limited, she said.