February 23, 2024

Progressive lawmakers and activists are again imploring President Joe Biden to declare a climate emergency, citing the thick blanket of smoke from Canadian wildfires now shrouding the US Capitol and swaths of the Eastern seaboard.

“As much of the Northeast and our nation’s capital experience the suffocating conditions that have become a regular occurrence in the West, we are faced with yet another stark reminder that the climate crisis is here,” said Representative Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat. “We ought to treat it like the emergency it is.” Those sentiments were echoed by Representative Ro Khanna, a California Democrat, who urged Biden on Twitter to “declare a climate emergency.” 

Scientists say human-caused global warming makes wildfires more likely and more destructive. 

An emergency declaration by President Joe Biden would unlock sweeping executive powers, including blocking crude oil exports and placing other limits on fossil fuels. Biden considered the move — which would also enable him to shift funds to propel clean energy construction — last summer, when it appeared his massive climate law was going to falter in the Senate. Ultimately, he decided against it. 

But with more than 100 million people under air quality alerts Thursday as toxic smoke from record-setting wildfires pours into the eastern US, threatening flights and leading people to mask up or stay inside, progressives are renewing their call for Biden to marshal sweeping powers to fight global warming. 

Bernie Sanders@BernieSanders

I hope my colleagues in Washington are breathing in the air and finally waking up to the reality that if we don’t act boldly to address climate change we won’t be leaving much of a planet for future generations. pic.twitter.com/zVj0pbUZFe

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Climate change is playing an “oversized role” in the wildfires being experienced across the continent, Jeffery Rupert, director of the Interior Department’s Office of Wildland Fire, testified before a Senate panel Thursday.  A drier and hotter climate results in lower moisture and often leads to extreme conditions that can produce megafires, he said.

“New York City looks like it’s on fire, kids are choking on dirty air, and the AQI is a serious health threat equivalent to breathing in smoke from cigarettes,” Varshini Prakash, the executive director of the Sunrise Movement activist group, said in a statement. “We are in a climate emergency, and it’s absurd that our government isn’t acting like it.” 

To contact the author of this story:

Ari Natter in Washington at anatter5@bloomberg.net

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