President Biden has “practically speaking” already declared a national emergency on climate change, the president said in an interview with The Weather Channel published Wednesday. “We’ve conserved more land. We rejoined the Paris Climate Accord, we passed a $368 billion climate control facility.” At first, he said he had declared an emergency, but when pressed he said he had done so “practically speaking.”
The point of an emergency declaration is so that executives can exercise special powers to respond to an emergency, which would be unlawful under normal circumstances. However, due to the enormous powers they unlock, federal emergency declarations are limited by three federal laws.
Under the Public Health Service Act, the Health and Human Services Secretary can declare a public health emergency that grants the secretary extensive powers to respond to the public health emergency.
Under the Stafford Act, a state governor or tribal area chief executive can request federal assistance, allowing the president to declare a disaster or emergency; such a declaration enables the federal government to disburse financial assistance and other relief, coordinated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Under the National Emergencies Act, the president may declare a national emergency without a request from a specific state, which confers 123 powers granted in other laws, although the president must specify which authorities are activated.
The law does not recognize a method of declaring an emergency, “practically speaking,” without an official declaration. Thus, even CNN acknowledged, “President Joe Biden incorrectly claimed in an interview with The Weather Channel that he has already declared a national emergency on the climate crisis.”
Biden elaborated on what he meant regarding a climate change emergency. “It’s the existential threat to humanity,” he stated. A threat to humanity’s existence would logically involve a threat to American lives, and a natural event that threatens American lives would typically be an appropriate subject for an emergency declaration. In that sense, it’s possible to follow Biden’s logic.
But while the logic is certainly clear, the solution is not. To protect lives during a hurricane, tornado, or manhunt, a governor could order citizens to evacuate, shelter in place, or avoid a certain area, as well as stockpiling emergency resources. Then, once the emergency is past, citizens can resume their normal lives. These are not only inadequate but meaningless responses to something as ill-defined as “climate change.” Evacuate to where? For how long? The current climate change narrative identifies a global crisis extending for lifetimes.
In fact, the lack of workable solutions might explain why President Biden has so far declined to declare a climate emergency. Biden has labelled climate change an “emergency” in speeches and vowed to combat it through executive actions, but he has stopped short of declaring an official emergency. If he did declare an emergency, what powers would he invoke, precisely?
Another possible reason for Biden’s delay is the inevitable legal and constitutional challenges, which he might then lose. Under normal circumstances, emergency powers are as short-lived as the crisis. But a climate emergency would be practically endless, enabling a presidential administration to sweep away America’s normal operating procedure forever, “practically speaking.” The courts have already struck down a number of Biden administration executive actions on the climate — from stopping offshore drilling to redefining inland waters — and they might not look too kindly on what would amount to a massive power grab.
But climate change is not the only issue on which emergency powers allure Biden. Biden has been contemplating an abortion emergency declaration since last year. He contemplated declaring an emergency over monkeypox, which primarily affects a very specific subset of the population. And he kept extending the COVID-19 emergency until long after he declared the pandemic over, and Congress had forced him to let it end. Somehow, under the president who promised to restore normalcy to Washington, everything is an emergency.
But President Biden’s track record with emergency declarations — specifically, considering them but not declaring them — suggests they serve a purpose other than good governance. That purpose is politics. When the chief executive is constantly mulling an emergency declaration, that stokes fear and alarm in the public, who assume he has alarming information they don’t. Fear can be a powerful motivator, driving people to vote, protest, or answer polls in the desired way. And many politicians today traffic almost exclusively in the rhetoric of fear. Even 70% of churchgoers have a growing sense of fear, although the Bible repeatedly exhorts them to “fear not.”
Biden is not the only figure to misuse an emergency declaration to advance a political agenda. In May, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper (D) officially declared a state of emergency because the legislature was considering a school choice bill. In June, the Human Rights Campaign — an activist organization with no governmental or emergency power — declared a state of emergency for people in Florida who identify as LGBT because the state government enacted measures to check the inroads of transgender ideology in education and medicine. These nakedly political emergency declarations cheapen the whole concept, so that people are tempted to take it less seriously in the event of an actual emergency.
Today’s progressives are apparently trying to improve on former Obama advisor Rahm Emanuel’s slogan, “Never let a crisis go to waste.” After lurching society to the Left, their worry is not that they might waste a crisis by failing to achieve their agenda, but that there aren’t enough crises to accommodate it all. Thus, they are proactively looking for crises to exploit or, if necessary, manufacture. “Is this a crisis?” they ask themselves. “Or rather, would people believe it is?”
Healthy representative governments don’t flit breathlessly from crisis to crisis, nor do they replace mature deliberation for fear-driven urgency. This is unacceptable, and it must not continue.
Joshua Arnold is a staff writer at The Washington Stand.
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EDITORS NOTE: This Washington Stand column is republished with permission. ©2023 Family Research Council.
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