Biden Allocates $2.3B for Extreme Heat Relief, Opens Gulf Areas to Wind Energy
SOMERSET, Mass. — President Joe Biden on Wednesday traveled to this small New England town, which in many ways is emblematic of the nation’s energy transition, to announce a series of measures to deal with the extreme heat now gripping most of the nation and continue the march toward a renewable energy-based future.
“This is an emergency and I will look at it that way,” Biden said. “Since Congress is not acting as it should … as president I’ll use my executive powers to combat the climate crisis in the absence of executive action.”
Among the steps the president announced is that he’s directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide $2.3 billion in funding through its Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities program to help communities increase resilience to heat waves, drought, wildfires, flood, hurricanes and other hazards that have grown more dire due to climate change.
A senior administration official briefing reporters on the president’s announcement said the allocation is the largest ever made through the BRIC program, and that the action taken today is intended to “prioritize delivering benefits to disadvantaged communities.”
The president is also directing the Department of Health and Human Services to expand its Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, an initiative originally designed to help people deal with home heating issues in the wintertime, to promote the delivery of efficient air conditioning equipment, community cooling centers and other measures to beat the heat on the local level.
In April, the administration released $385 million the program received through the bipartisan infrastructure law, to help families with their household energy costs, including summer cooling.
“Though this program existed before we took office, this administration is broadening it and, in effect, calibrating it to the new climate reality we’re all experiencing,” the senior administration official said. “With this funding, states will be able, among other things, to establish cooling centers where they need them.”
Lastly, on what a senior administration official called “the opportunity side,” Biden on Wednesday directed the Interior Department to, for the first time, identify vast acres in the Gulf of Mexico that will be earmarked for wind energy development.
The areas the administration wants to see set aside for this purpose encompass roughly 700,000 acres and have the potential to power over 3 million homes.
In addition, Biden said he’s directed Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to “advance” wind energy development in the waters off the mid- and southern Atlantic coast and Florida’s Gulf Coast — alleviating “uncertainty” cast by the prior administration.
These actions follow up on the president’s launch, in June, of a new Federal-State Offshore Wind Implementation Partnership, which brought together 11 governors from states up and down the East Coast to accelerate the development of wind energy along the Atlantic coast.
Biden announced his latest executive actions against the backdrop of Brayton Point in Somerset that once was the site of a coal-fired power plant so notorious for the pollution it flushed into the atmosphere that it topped a list of the “Filthy Five” most environmentally harmful plants in the state.
Opened in 1963, the plant received its last coal shipment in May 2017 and was closed and demolished two years later.
Earlier this year, Mayflower Wind, which is developing an offshore wind farm south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, Massachusetts, announced plans to transmit its power and that derived from other wind farms planned for the New England and Atlantic coasts into the energy grid via a substation at Brayton Point.
The initiatives announced Wednesday come less than a week after Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., scuttled the climate and renewable energy provisions that had been part of the slimmed down Build Back Better bill Manchin had been negotiating with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., for months.
Over the weekend, there had been some speculation that Biden would use his remarks in Massachusetts to declare climate change a national emergency or a national security issue, unleashing potentially billions of dollars to achieve the goals Manchin appeared to block.
However, this week administration officials suggested the president would follow a more measured course, announcing a series of executive actions over time. At the same time, they stressed, declaring a national emergency related to climate “remains on the table.”
“What the president laid out today is what he can do. He has very specific executive powers. He has leveraged executive action to date, and he has directed his administration to look at a broad set of options for how to accelerate those actions and determine how to exercise his executive powers with the highest ambition,” the senior administration official said.
All of this is transpiring as more than 100 million Americans are covered by various forms of heat advisories and warnings — particularly in many of the nation’s largest cities.
Extreme heat that’s been in place over much of the country since mid-June has now shattered records in at least 90 communities, and it’s caused many Americans to deal with increasingly severe heat-related health ailments, often sending them to their local emergency room for help.
“The actions the president is taking today are an acknowledgement that climate change is a threat to our country, to our health, to our economy and our national security,” the senior administration official said. “The challenge we face is urgent and what has already been unleashed in terms of climate is devastating.
“What the president has said today is that the challenges we face demand we take action, and at the same time he’s pointed out the incredible opportunities we have, if we get our act together, square our shoulders and take on the climate crisis,” the official added.
Earlier in the day, Sen.s Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., joined with seven of their colleagues in urging Biden to immediatly declare a climate emergency and unlock the powers of the National Emergency Act that would allow him to pursue an aray of regulatory and administrative actions to curb emissions.
“Declaring the climate crisis a national emergency under the NEA would unlock powers to rebuild a better economy with significant, concrete actions,” the senators wrote in a letter to the president. “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.”
But Jose Zayas, executive vice president of Policy and Programs at the American Council on Renewable Energy, said immediately after Biden’s speech that his members agreed with how the administration has chosen to address the “clear and present danger” of climate change.
“Today’s executive actions are a meaningful step toward addressing the climate emergency, but truly tackling the worst impacts of climate change will require an all-hands-on-deck approach that includes legislative action,” Zayas continued. “We urge Congress to not miss the opportunity to enact a long-term, stable, and predictable clean energy tax platform this year that is capable of effectively addressing the climate crisis.”