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Monkeypox? Climate? Deciding what a national emergency is

WASHINGTON (AP) — In November 1979, just over a week after student activists took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held 52 U.S. citizens hostage, President Jimmy Carter issued Executive Order 12170 declaring a national emergency against Iran.

That order remains in effect today, most recently renewed in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving by President Joe Biden, who noted then that “our relations with Iran have not yet normalized.”

The Biden administration’s August 4 declaration of a public health emergency over monkeypox frees up federal money and resources to fight a virus that has already infected more than 10,000 people in the United States. But public health emergencies expire every 90 days unless extended by the Department of Health and Human Services.

RELATED | Biden administration declares monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency

These are different from national emergency declarations, which give presidents wide leeway to craft policy and tap into federal funds without congressional approval. It’s what activists have been calling for to better tackle climate change, but Biden has resisted despite energy shortages across much of the world and high gas prices at home.

“This is actually the real test of whether President Biden is taking the climate crisis seriously,” Karen Orenstein, Climate Director of Friends of the Earth. “There couldn’t be a more crucial move.”

Presidents have declared 76 national emergencies over the past five decades, and 42 remain in effect, according to a list compiled by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School.

Biden recently declared emergencies related to the taking of hostages and the detention of American nationals abroad, while extending one in Mali. He also issued them on Myanmar and Afghanistan and authorized sanctions against Russia, Ethiopia and individuals linked to the global drug trade.

These statements stem primarily from the National Emergencies Act of 1976, which came after President Richard Nixon issued a series of them, including on currency restrictions and a nationwide postal strike.

The law requires that such declarations cease automatically after one year, unless the president orders a renewal. Congress can also end emergencies, but that effectively requires a two-thirds anti-veto vote, which has never happened.

“The origin of the law was clearly an attempt to set limits on presidential power,” said Chris Edelson, author of “Emergency Presidential Power: From the Drafting of the Constitution to the War on Terror.” “Before actions passed, presidents could declare emergencies and no one really knew what that meant. And they resisted for decades.

An emergency declared in 1950 by President Harry S. Truman to fight communism on a global scale in the context of the Korean War was still in effect in the 1970s, before the law.

The emergencies defined since its entry into force, however, have similar and extended retention periods. President George W. Bush’s urgency three days after the September 11 attacks is still relevant. President Donald Trump declared COVID-19 a national emergency in 2020 and Biden extended it until at least February 2023.

Only once has Congress even discussed thwarting emergency declarations, Edelson said. It was in 2019, when 12 Senate Republicans joined Democrats in blocking Trump’s efforts to declare one on the US-Mexico border and invest more than $6 billion from the military and other federal funds. to build a wall. Trump used a veto to preserve his border emergency declaration until Biden rescinded it when he took office.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., warned during the fight against funding for the wall that allowing Trump to do whatever he wants could allow future Democratic presidents to do the same on climate. Trump used a veto to maintain his border emergency declaration until Biden rescinded it when he took office.

“It sets long-term precedents,” Rubio told CNBC in 2019. “Tomorrow the national security emergency could be climate change, so let’s seize fossil fuel power plants or something.”

This prediction has not yet proved premonitory. Biden said last month that climate change “is an emergency” but did not issue a statement that would have allowed him to take major steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including limiting offshore drilling and US oil exports.

With Congress having approved nearly $375 billion over a decade in climate change strategies as part of a bigger budget, the political pressure on him to do so may wear off.

The White House did not specify whether the declaration of a national climate emergency was no longer an option. But it’s hard to imagine the administration imposing limits on oil and production after prices at the pump hit record highs. They have since stabilized throughout the summer – a fact the White House has trumpeted.

Still, declaring a national climate emergency could allow Biden to fundamentally remake the US economy in a greener way, a commitment that was a centerpiece of his 2020 presidential campaign. The president has also promised to cut emissions in half. the country’s carbon footprint by 2030 – a target that the budget package’s climate provisions are not enough to achieve.

“Now more than ever, we need to declare a climate emergency,” said Cassidy DiPaola, spokesperson for the Stop the Oil Profiteering campaign. She said the budget measure, known as the “Reduction of Inflation Act”, is “totally filled with subsidies to the fossil fuel industry”.

“Our message to Biden is, ‘Hey, you gotta fix what the IRA left out and what the IRA sacrificed,'” DiPaola said, adding that of the measure, “It’s Congress who adopted the IRA. President Biden has always made all these climate commitments. »

However, delaying a national declaration of a climate emergency for even that long can undermine the main argument that a crisis is at hand.

“The real indicator that this doesn’t really meet the definition of an emergency as provided by law – although it’s not clearly defined – is that he waited,” said Edelson, who is also a professor. government at the American University of Washington. , on climate concerns. “If it’s a real emergency, you act right away.”

Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, countered that conservatives on the Supreme Court and in Congress have repeatedly challenged popular opinion on key issues – underscoring Biden’s need to act unilaterally.

“Everyone grants the president the right to declare an emergency if there is an individual fire or hurricane. But with the entire planet experiencing heatwaves, unprecedented fires raging and oceans poised to flood American cities, the president cannot declare this a climate emergency. existential? asked Green. “He clearly has the power and his grandchildren are counting on him to use it.”