On March 13, 2020, then President Trump declared a “national emergency” due to the newly-arising outbreak of the Covid-19 virus. Three days later, on March 16, Trump set forth a program of “15 Days to Slow the Spread.” The program included strong recommendations for anyone who felt sick, or had tested positive for the disease, to stay at home during the two-week emergency window.
Here we are now some two years and four months later. The supposed Covid-19 15 day “emergency” has been repeatedly extended, first by Trump through the last ten months of his term, and then for the additional 18 months since January 2021 by President Biden. It’s been two-plus long years of lockdowns, work from home, business closures, school closures, mask mandates, vaccine mandates, and on and on, with little to no evidence that any of it ever did any good.
On Monday July 18 (2022) President Biden extended the Covid-19 “emergency” for yet another 90 days to mid-October. You might think that the whole concept of an “emergency” has lost all meaning if it can somehow persist for more than two and a half years, well past the point where normal people have stopped paying any attention to it whatsoever. “Emergency” used to mean something immediate, like a hurricane or a tornado wrecking a town, or someone having a heart attack, or a shooter actively firing. By any reasonable view of the word “emergency,” things connected with Covid-19 that might have fallen under that term ended months if not years ago. But for a bureaucracy, what the term “emergency” means is the opportunity to issue orders that you could not otherwise issue, and pass out money that you could not otherwise pass out. Now that you have gotten a taste of the heady drug of “emergency” powers, why would you ever give them up if you could avoid it? Years later, it’s still an “emergency” if the bureaucrats want it to be. Or at least, that’s their view.
Which brings us to the so-called “climate emergency.” Since the Supreme Court’s decision in West Virginia v. EPA on June 30, the bureaucracies in the “climate” space, together with all the environmental activists, have been thrown into a tizzy. The Supreme Court just declared that the bureaucracies have no power to fundamentally transform the use of energy in the economy without a clear direction from Congress, which on the climate issue cannot be found in existing statutes. And it has become clear that no further such statutory direction is likely to emerge from Congress before the mid-term elections in November. After November, changes in the make-up of Congress will probably make further such legislation even less likely, if not completely off the table for years if not decades. So what is a self-respecting climate alarmist to do?
To those over there on the left, the answer seems obvious: Demand declaration of a “climate emergency.” With that declaration, the statutory gap could perhaps be filled by another whole category of laws providing special powers in the event of a declaration of “emergency.” The calls for President Biden to make such a declaration have been everywhere since the Supreme Court’s decision at the end of June. In the politician category, a collection of Democratic Senators (Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Brian Schatz of Hawaii, Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, Alex Padilla of California, Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Bernie Sanders of Vermont) sent a strong letter to Biden on July 20 making the demand:
Declaring the climate crisis a national emergency under the NEA would unlock powers to rebuild a better economy with significant, concrete actions. . . . Under the NEA, you could redirect spending to build out renewable energy systems on military bases, implement large-scale clean transportation solutions and finance distributed energy projects to boost climate resiliency. All of these actions would employ Americans in new and emerging industries while securing American leadership in global markets.
Environmental groups were out even ahead of the Senators with the same demand. Here is Greenpeace on July 8:
Congress and the Courts are failing to protect our communities from the climate crisis and it’s time for President Biden to be the leader we need. By declaring a climate emergency, President Biden unlocks an expanded set of powers under the National Emergencies Act and other federal laws.
There are many, many more examples of the same demand from all the usual suspects.
Indeed, there was lots of talk that Biden was going to make the big declaration on Wednesday, when he went to Massachusetts to give a speech at a closed coal-fired power plant. He somehow stopped just short of the formal “emergency” declaration, but took the occasion to emit the usual clichés about the impending climate apocalypse, including liberal use of the term “emergency” itself. Excerpt:
“Climate change is literally an existential threat to our nation and to the world,” Mr. Biden said. . . . “This is an emergency, an emergency, and I will look at it that way.”
It’s entirely possible that the climate “emergency” declaration could issue literally any day now.
What would declaration of an “emergency” mean? The idea is that there are plenty of existing statutes out there granting the Executive powers of various sorts in the event of such an “emergency,” provided that there had been a formal declaration of it. Thus arguably there would be a way around the lack of clear statutory authority that sank the EPA’s power plant regulations in the West Virginia case. The Nation on July 21 gives a rundown of some of the powers that the Executive could purport to exercise in the event of such a declaration with respect to the climate:
[S]uch a declaration would enable the Biden administration to access funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities program for combating the impacts of heat waves, extreme weather events, and natural disasters and could enable faster implementation of critical mitigation strategies. An official climate emergency announcement could also allow the Biden administration to curtail crude oil exports and stop offshore drilling through laws and exemptions related to national security and energy development. The Biden administration could access financial support for clean energy infrastructure through FEMA and the Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, and it could cut energy costs for families by supporting domestic offshore wind projects, helping to facilitate an affordable clean energy transition.
Here’s the problem. There is no sense in which the climate is an “emergency” within the ordinary meaning of that word in the English language. Predictions by climate models of a few degrees of temperature rise over the next century are the opposite of an “emergency.” Indeed, the statutes granting various “emergency” powers to the Executive all deal with the question of time periods too short to give the Congress time to enact legislation appropriate to the situation at hand. That circumstance is the opposite of what we have with the climate.
But if you are on the left, or a climate activist, this situation is just too important to wait for Congressional action that may never come. An “emergency” must be declared, to last for — how long? A hundred years? During which time, the bureaucrats can issue whatever orders they want, and spend whatever funds they want, all in the name of saving the planet. None of which will or can have any effect on the 85% (and growing) of world carbon emissions that come from outside the U.S. and which the U.S. government cannot affect in any way.