President Joe Biden pledged $2.3 billion to protect vulnerable communities from the effects of extreme weather on Wednesday. The pledge was one of three executive actions the president issued in the face of inaction from Congress on climate change.
"As President, I have a responsibility to act with urgency and resolve when our nation faces clear and present danger. And that's what climate change is about. It is literally, not figuratively, a clear and present danger. The health of our citizens in our communities is literally at stake," Biden said on Wednesday, speaking from Brayton Point, the site of a former coal-fired power plant that's now a renewable energy infrastructure manufacturing facility in Somerset, Mass.
Biden's first of three executive actions, announced Wednesday, dedicates the $2.3 billion in funding, a doubling of last year's allocation, to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for its Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities program. The funding, which will be made available to states, tribes, and territories during the fiscal year 2022, is intended to prepare communities for drought, floods, heat waves, hurricanes, wildfires, and other climate change-related disasters.
"It's astounding the damage that's being done. And this crisis impacts every aspect of everyday life. That's why today I'm making the largest investment ever, $2.3 billion to help communities across the country build infrastructure that's designed to withstand the full range of disasters we've been seeing up to today," Biden said.
As part of the Justice40 initiative, 40 percent of the benefits of federal investment in climate change and clean energy are meant to benefit disadvantaged and underserved communities.
Second, Biden announced the Department of Health and Human Services will offer guidance that expands how the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program can be used to help offset costs of cooling for vulnerable households and communities. Communities can, for example, use the American Rescue Plan to increase funding for cooling, establish cooling centers, loan energy-efficient cooling equipment to families, and more. The guidance follows the release of $385 million from the Department of Health and Human Services in April to help families with energy costs, including for cooling in the summertime.
Biden also updated the public on progress toward implementing heat protection in workplaces. He said Secretary of Labor Martin Walsh, who previously served as mayor of Boston, is developing the "first ever" standards for workplaces during extreme heat. The Labor Department, meanwhile, has conducted more than 500 heat-related inspections across workplaces in 43 states.
Finally, the Department of the Interior is seeking to expand offshore wind capacity by proposing the first wind energy area in the Gulf of Mexico. The Biden Administration is conducting an environmental assessment and seeking public input on two potential areas off the coasts of Galveston, Texas, and Lake Charles, Louisiana. The proposed areas span 700,000 acres and have the capacity to power more than three million homes. This action promotes Biden's goal of establishing for use 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030. The president also directed the Secretary of the Interior to advance wind energy development in waters off mid- and southern Atlantic coasts, which a senior administration official said clears uncertainty created by the former administration.
"We're going to make sure that the ocean is open for the clean energy of our future and everything we can do to give a green light to wind power on the Atlantic coast, where my predecessor's actions only created confusion," Biden added.
Former President Donald Trump announced a 10-year moratorium, set to go into effect on July 1, 2022, that banned new energy leasing along the coasts of Florida, Georgia, and North and South Carolinas.
Brayton Point Power Station was once the largest coal-fired power plant in New England before shuttering in 2017. In February 2022, the owners inked a deal to convert the site into a manufacturing facility for submarine cables used to connect offshore wind farms to the power grid. Biden lauded the site for being "on the frontier of clean energy in America."
"Manufacturing these cables will mean good paying jobs for 250 workers, as many workers as the old power plant had at its peak," he added.
Biden has been under pressure from lawmakers to take action on climate change since taking office but talks recently stalled out in Congress. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said last week he would not negotiate on bills to address the climate.
Earlier this week there were reports Biden could be considering declaring a climate emergency, which would empower his administration to combat global warming and boost renewable energy without Manchin's support. Asked whether an emergency declaration was still on the table, a senior administration official said only that "as President, [Biden] will use his executive powers to combat the climate crisis in the absence of additional congressional action."
Biden said his administration will announce in the coming days executive actions developed to combat the climate crisis. A senior official added that the administration will take climate action "every single day" this week.
Biden's comments come amid a devastating heat wave that is scorching much of America. According to the National Weather Service, some 100 million people in the south and central U.S. are under threat of an excessive heat warning or heat advisory. Above-average temperatures are also expected in parts of New England to the east and California to the west. Heat is among the top weather-related killer in the U.S., accounting for hundreds of deaths each year. Pregnant women, children, the elderly, and people with pre-existing medical conditions are particularly vulnerable.
Updated on July 20, 2022, at 4:48 p.m. ET with additional details, quotes, and edits.