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Biden pledges executive action on climate change, opens Gulf of Mexico to offshore wind

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Jennette Barnes
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CAI
President Biden speaks at Brayton Point in Somerset on Wednesday, July 21.

In a visit to Somerset’s Brayton Point on Wednesday, President Biden pledged to take executive action on climate change if Congress won’t act.

“This is an emergency,” he said. “An emergency. And I will look at it that way.”

But he stopped short of declaring climate change a national emergency, something Senate Democrats and other supporters have called on him to do.

Invited guests from southeastern Massachusetts included state legislators and Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, chairwoman of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head Aquinnah.

She said the progress on renewable energy is exciting, especially in light of how climate change is affecting Indigenous people.

“You know, the colors in our wampum, the size of the salmon, the wildfires … our cousins are fighting in the West Coast, watching the severity of storms,” she said.

But devoting part of the ocean to energy is a balancing act, she said. “We also have to balance that with … what are we giving up on the other side, as far as our brothers and sisters in the oceans and in the seas."

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Jennette Barnes
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CAI
Biden's special envoy on climate, John Kerry, arrives at Brayton Point on Wednesday with members of Congress, from left: Rep. Jake Auchincloss, D-Mass.; Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-RI; Rep. Bill Keating, D-Mass.; Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass.

Pressure for executive action on climate has been building since last week, when Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, said he wouldn’t support climate provisions in the budget bill. With no Republicans on board, Democrats needed his vote.

Speaking at the former coal-fired power plant, Biden promised to use executive orders and regulatory power to fight climate change.

"In the coming days, my administration will announce the executive actions we have developed to combat this emergency," he said. "We need to act."

Biden also announced he is opening the Gulf of Mexico to offshore wind.

“Today we began the process to develop wind power in the Gulf of Mexico as well for the first time — a real opportunity to power millions of additional homes from wind,” he said.

He highlighted Brayton Point’s future as a place where wind power will connect to the grid.

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Jennette Barnes
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CAI
President Biden interacts with invited guests, including Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, center, chairwoman of the Wampanaoag Tribe of Gay Head Aquinnah, after his remarks Wednesday.

Separately, a senior administration official said the Biden administration will advance wind energy development not just on the Gulf Coast, but also off the mid-Atlantic and southern Atlantic coast.

State Sen. Marc Pacheco, a Taunton Democrat and invited guest for the president's remarks, said it was “fantastic” to see Biden in southeastern Massachusetts.

I am so happy and proud that he is speaking out the way he has on this issue, because it's absolutely critical for the future, not only of the planet, but for the species that live on the planet,” he said.

Somerset’s representative at the State House, Democrat Patricia Haddad, has been a longtime advocate of offshore wind and the economic activity it could bring to Somerset.

She said she was thrilled to see Biden in her community talking about wind.

“Everything that he said about moving the federal permitting process forward is music to my ears,” she said.

Temperatures in Somerset reached the mid 90s Wednesday, setting the stage for Biden to talk about extreme heat and other effects of climate change. He gave his remarks in blazing sun, the ground a dry, gray dust, standing in front of the place where the Taunton River meets Mount Hope Bay.

“Just take a look around,” he said. “Right now, 100 million Americans are under heat alert. One hundred million Americans.”

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Jennette Barnes
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CAI
President Biden's motorcade arrives at Brayton Point, kicking up a cloud of gray dust on the hot and dry grounds just before the president's remarks on climate change and the promise of offshore wind power.

He said the administration will allocate $2.3 billion to help communities build infrastructure to cope with the immediate effects of climate change, including extreme heat, drought, flooding, hurricanes and tornadoes.

That money will come through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the administration said.

Environmental groups continue to push Biden to do more.

The Conservation Law Foundation said by email Wednesday that the time for photo ops is over.

“President Biden must declare a climate emergency, but it will only be meaningful if it’s backed up by concrete and enforceable rules and new funding to slash carbon pollution and protect at-risk communities,” spokesman Jake O’Neill said.

Accompanying Biden to Brayton Point were John Kerry, special presidential envoy for climate; Gina McCarthy, national climate advisor; and members of Congress, including Sens. John Markey and Elizabeth Warren and Reps. Bill Keating and Jake Auchincloss, all of Massachusetts; and Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse.

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Jennette Barnes
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CAI
Chalked lettering on a recreation building on Brayton Point Road, near the Edward J. O'Neill Memorial Playground in Somerset, greeted guests as they left the president's event on Wednesday.

As the president headed back to Washington, Haddad said she’d watch what orders he issues in the near term — including whether he makes an official emergency declaration on climate change.

“If I'm reading it, that's what he was intimating, that he was going to do an executive order,” she said. “Because it's impossible to get some of those people in Congress to acknowledge the danger we're all facing.”

Jennette Barnes is a reporter and producer. Named a Master Reporter by the New England Society of News Editors, she brings more than 20 years of news experience to CAI.