Biden touts his climate change actions, but enviro groups say: ‘Not enough’
President Joe Biden speaks about climate change and clean energy at Brayton Power Station, July 20, 2022, in Somerset, Mass. | Evan Vucci / AP

SOMERSET, Mass.—Democratic President Joe Biden touted his administration’s moves towards combating climate change. But the items he disclosed at a speech in a former coal-fired power plant in Somerset, Mass.—whose workers will manufacture special undersea cables for offshore wind farms—produced a reaction from green groups of “not enough.”

Many want a climate national emergency declaration, now, and Biden said he’s working on that and on other executive actions, all to navigate around Republican-imposed congressional refusal to act on combatting what he called “an existential threat to the nation and the world.”

“As president, I have a responsibility to act with urgency and resolve when our nation faces clear and present danger,” Biden declared in Somerset. “And that’s what climate change is about. It is literally, not figuratively, a clear and present danger. The health of our citizens and our communities is literally at stake,” he explained.

Biden is taking the executive actions because congressional Republicans, beholden to corporate capitalists and their profits from fossil fuel production—unanimously opposed his proposals to combat climate change, and still do, he pointed out.

But Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., also beholden to fossil fuel interests, joined the GOP in killing Biden’s pro-green Build Back Better bill, and Manchin wields the key vote in the evenly split Senate. Biden told reporters afterwards he and Manchin haven’t talked since the West Virginia senator killed his bill.

That’s despite the 100-plus degree heat blanketing much of the Great Plains and moving to the East Coast, western wildfires that have torched an area the size of New Jersey, and temperatures so high that Biden’s earmarking $380 million in federal funds to help cities and towns buy air conditioners for sweltering low-income residents.

“Heat is the silent killer of climate change,” his top White House environmental aide, Gina McCarthy, told reporters aboard the plane to Massachusetts.

Biden also pointed out that the Somerset plant, the largest electricity generator in New England until it closed in 2017, employed 250 people then. It provided 1,500 megawatts of power and well-paying jobs.

“But the plant, like many others around the country, had another legacy: One of toxins, smog, greenhouse gas emissions, the kind of pollution that contributed to the climate emergency we now face today,” he said. And it belched so much material in the air that area residents “had to wipe the gunk off their windshields to be able to drive.”

Now there’s no gunk, but 250 workers there are manufacturing the special cables to the offshore wind farm, Biden said. The cables will bring 800 megawatts of electricity from those windmills, instead of power coming from coal. Jobs building the windmill components are union jobs under a Project Labor Agreement, a goal Biden set for “green” projects.

And “Jones Act ships”—mostly manned by Seafarers, though Biden didn’t say so—are being built in Texas to transport those components from the shore to the windmill sites.

Biden touted similar projects in Illinois—converting old coal-fired power plants to what the president called “solar farms”—and Wyoming. “In California, the IBEW members have helped turn a former oil plant into the world’s largest battery storage facility,” he added. McCarthy lauded corporate moves to take advantage of the shift to “green”-manufactured power.

“We’ve made real progress, but there is an enormous task ahead,” Biden warned. “We have to keep retraining and recruiting building trades and union electricians for jobs in wind, solar, hydrogen, nuclear, creating even more and better jobs.”

The reaction from green groups, including the union-environmentalist BlueGreen Alliance: Good, but not enough. Several urged more lobbying of Congress to get around the Republican roadblock.

The most outspoken was the Center for Biological Diversity, which not only has pulled together a coalition with hundreds of other green groups but which issued a report earlier this year specifying what actions Biden can immediately take to cut fossil fuel use if he issues a national emergency declaration. He told reporters later he’s still working on its details.

“The world’s burning up from California to Croatia, and right now Biden’s fighting fire with the trickle from a garden hose,” said Jean Su, the center’s Energy Justice program director. “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.”

“There is massive potential to create good jobs across the country building the robust supply chain necessary to support our growing offshore wind sector,” BlueGreen Alliance Executive Director Jason Walsh said in a statement focusing on Congress’ failure to act. The alliance is a coalition of unions and green groups.

“More can and must be done. Alongside executive action to boost clean manufacturing, Congress needs to pass a budget reconciliation package with the manufacturing and clean energy tax credits and strong labor and domestic sourcing standards needed to help grow critical clean energy supply chains and create good-paying union jobs.”

That’s the description of Biden’s BBB bill’s clean energy components, which the Republicans unanimously oppose and which Manchin—backed by them and fossil fuel lobbies guarding their profits—killed.

Natural Resources Defense Council Government Affairs Director John Bowman agreed. Combatting climate change is “especially important for low-income communities and people of color suffering inordinate harm on the front lines of blistering heat, withering drought, and raging wildfires, storms, and floods,” he added.

“Congress still has work to do, starting with passing badly needed clean energy incentives.” Clean energy projects, funded through the $1 trillion five-year infrastructure law must be implemented “in a way that helps cut our carbon footprint, confront environmental injustice and ensure that low-income communities share equitably in the benefits of clean energy…And it means writing rules to help clean up our cars, trucks, and dirty power plants, make our homes and workplaces more efficient, and cut emissions of other dangerous greenhouse gases like methane.”


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.