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Schumer says Biden should consider declaring a ‘climate emergency’

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.erin schaff/NYT

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in an interview Monday night that President Biden should consider increasing the urgency of the climate crisis.

“I think it might be a good idea for President Biden to call a climate emergency,” Schumer told Rachel Maddow of MSNBC.

The move, he said, would enable Biden to do “many, many things under the emergency powers.”

Biden could enact wide-sweeping changes “without legislation” if he declared the ongoing environmental crisis a national emergency, Schumer said, referencing a similar step former president Donald Trump took with the border wall.

“Trump used this emergency for a stupid wall, which wasn’t an emergency,” Schumer said.


But, he added, “if there ever was an emergency, climate is one.”

“So I would suggest that they explore looking at climate as an emergency, which would give them more flexibility,” Schumer said. “After all, it’s a crisis.”

But Schumer said action on climate change shouldn’t be limited to the president. With Democrats now in control of the White House, the Senate, and the House, Schumer said “our North Star has to be the legislation itself.”

“The caucus is united with the belief that I have. We must get big, strong, bold things done,” he said. “That’s a bottom line. If we don’t, I worry about the future of this democracy.”

Biden has vowed to make climate change a priority, calling it “the existential threat of our time” in December.

“We need a unified national response to climate change. We need to meet the moment with the urgency it demands, as we would with any national emergency,” Biden said at an event in Wilmington, Del.

Among some of his first actions in office, Biden signed a letter promising that the United States would rejoin the Paris climate accord. Nearly 200 countries have committed to reducing their carbon emissions as part of the agreement.


As president, Trump formally withdrew the country from the Paris Agreement. His administration also rolled back more than 125 environmental safeguards, according to The Washington Post.

Biden addressed his predecessor’s handling of the climate issue last week when he signed an executive order that would initiate the process of overturning environmental policies passed under the Trump administration — including rescinding rollbacks to vehicle emissions standards.

His pick for White House climate coordinator, Massachusetts native Gina McCarthy, has pushed for the updating of emissions standards, the establishment of greenhouse gas standards for automobiles, and the promotion of energy efficiency and alternative fuels.

And on Wednesday, Biden is planning to roll out a series of executive orders, including one exploring a ban on new oil and gas drilling on federal land, according to the New York Times.

Climate is one of the top priorities for Democrats to address, Schumer said, along with the coronavirus pandemic, the faltering economy, and racial inequality.

If Democrats receive pushback on key legislative goals from Republicans, Schumer noted that lawmakers in the party were studying ways they could incorporate both climate legislation and Biden’s economic recovery “Build Back Better” plan — “which does a lot on climate,” he said — into a budget tactic called reconciliation.

Instead of requiring 60 votes to pass, a reconciliation bill only needs a simple majority in the Senate. The process essentially makes legislation easier to pass. But there are limits to how often the tactic can be used.


“We get two reconciliation motions, one for COVID, and then one probably for [Build Back Better],” Schumer said.

The Build Back Better plan includes a number of proposals related to the climate, among them: building sustainable infrastructure, generating clean electricity, and creating jobs in climate-smart fields.

The $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package proposed by the Biden administration will likely receive attention first, Schumer said. Republicans, including moderates, have pushed back against the stimulus plan..

Shannon Larson can be reached at shannon.larson@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shannonlarson98.