On Monday, 165 staffers at federal health and environmental agencies as well as 75 Congressional offices published a letter calling on Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and President Joe Biden to act more aggressively on climate.
“Every day you do not act, the climate crisis spirals further out of control. The coming days represent our best opportunity to address the climate crisis and save countless lives with robust climate justice policy,” the letter, which was reported on and posted online by The Lever, reads. “Even if Democrats control both chambers and the White House again in four years, inaction in this moment will cause an era of record temperatures, extreme drought, sea level rise, and other deadly climate disasters. We do not have years to waste. We have little more than a week.”
The letter comes after the most recent disintegration of climate talks thanks to Senator Joe Manchin’s decision to walk away from negotiations centering on $375 billion worth of clean energy tax credits. Clean energy tax credits were the largest climate item still on the negotiating table, and as Kate Arnoff pointed out for The New Republic, while they’re a relatively flawed financing mechanism for curbing carbon emissions they’re also one of the only ones we have—but are still deeply opposed by Manchin.
According to The Lever, the letter comes from the Congressional Progressive Staff Association (CPSA), which has published similar open letters in the past month. Earlier this month, more than 200 congressional staffers signed a letter circulated by the group criticizing Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for their “silence on an expensive climate justice policy” and called for Congress to pass policy that “lays the groundwork for a more just and sustainable economy.” The letter was signed with initials only, due to staffers fearing “political retribution,” the outlet reported
Staffers were also inside Schumer’s Senate office on Monday with signs demanding CLIMATE ACTION NOW and CLIMATE POLICY NOW, calling on Schumer to keep negotiating with Senator Joe Manchin before the end of the legislative session.
Spokespeople for CPSA and Senator Schumer’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Despite this, the Biden administration has continued to negotiate with Manchin—who’s taken more money from the oil and gas industry than any other sector, has torpedoed numerous items on Biden’s climate agenda—in good faith. Democrats have responded by mounting pressure for Biden to announce a climate emergency and take executive actions in the midst of historic heat waves and massive fires across Europe that might bypass the Senate roadblock.
Ahead of Biden’s expected announcement on July 20, The American Prospect executive editor David Dayen cautioned that while Biden could very well follow through with such policies—banning crude exports, halting fossil fuel imports, or stopping investment in fossil fuel infrastructure—there were still concerns about reaching the funding levels necessary to actually avert dire climate scenarios. “A strong executive can use current law to lower emissions and begin a transition to a cleaner, safer, and healthier energy economy. But it would have been far preferable to use that power to coax complementary legislative action, particularly on investment funding,” Dayen wrote.
Biden did announce a number of executive actions, however environmental groups are criticizing them for being insufficient because of inadequate funding and the lack of legal force a climate emergency might be backed by. “Saying we’re in a climate emergency and declaring one under the law are totally different things. Declaring a climate emergency will unleash the full force of Biden’s executive powers to combat climate chaos and signal the climate leadership we so desperately need,” Jean Su, the Center for Biological Diversity’s Energy Justice program director, told People’s World.
The letter signed by staffers presents options for Biden and Schumer to bypass Manchin and enact climate policy. Staffers would like Biden to declare a climate emergency and end fossil fuel extraction on federal lands, and intervene in the Senate negotiations to force Manchin’s vote for the Build Back Better act and its climate provisions.
“The first option must be for Senator Manchin to vote to pass the House Build Back Better climate justice provisions by the end of July, as part of a reconciliation package. The second must represent a bold and creative alternative that Senator Manchin understands to be much worse,” the letter reads. “For example, you and Senator Schumer could strip Senator Manchin of his Chairmanship of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, shut down the Mountain Valley Pipeline Project, eliminate the use of mountaintop removal and coal burning, and establish stringent water and air pollution standards.”
The staffers also warned that “non-violent direct action” would follow a failure to act.
“This is an absolute emergency, and we want to work together, but since action to meet the scale of the crisis has yet to be delivered, we have no choice but to take matters into our own hands through non-violent direct action,” the letter states.
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