In the face of Maui’s devastating wildfires that have claimed more than 100 lives, with many still unaccounted for, climate activists are exploiting the tragedy to advance their agenda. But declaring a climate emergency at the behest of the climate lobby would do nothing except make life more expensive for everyday Americans.
Extremist climate groups made their goal clear when President Biden briefly stopped on the island to assess the damage: The president must declare a national climate emergency. The chorus includes versions of “if not now, then when?” alongside demands for action “now” and even some claims that it’s now normal for people to choose between burning in fires or jumping into the ocean.
A Biden-declared climate “emergency” won’t address the root cause of the Maui tragedy, which was mostly due to poor planning, incompetent leadership and distracted priorities. The leaders of Lahaina were well aware of an “extremely high risk of burning” since a 2014 report both defined the problem and proposed a number of mitigation measures.
The report’s author recently stated that a “lack of funding, [and] logistical hurdles in rugged terrain and competing priorities” is why some of the most important measures, including a call to ramp up emergency management response, were never implemented. One official, Maui’s emergency chief, resigned after the tragedy exposed the breadth of ineptitude.
Seeing the consequences today, it’s hard to understand what would take priority over wildfire mitigation. Early analyses suggest the fire was caused by a downed power line in dried-out, non-native grasses — which the 2014 report pinpointed as a chief concern. But it turns out that transitioning the local grid to comply with clean energy standards, a centerpiece of the president’s climate agenda, took precedence and drained limited resources.
Herein lies the ugly truth: If the climate lobby gets its way, a climate emergency declaration stands to make matters worse. In fact, the consequences of an all-encompassing, climate-themed distraction are already obvious.
During the Obama-Biden administration, key agencies set aside their core functions when the desires of politically connected climate activists overtook the needs of the American people. In 2014, the Flint, Mich., water crisis spun out of control after Obama appointees ignored concerns raised by regional staff that residents were drinking dangerous levels of lead through corrupted water systems. They were too busy building up Barack Obama’s global climate agenda, which included a $3 billion commitment of taxpayer funds to the United Nations Green Climate Fund announced that same year.
In 2015, the Gold King Mine spill occurred after mishaps by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency contractors that unleashed millions of gallons of toxic waste into the Animas River, inflicting serious harm on residents and wildlife. Later that year, Obama officially committed the U.S. to the Paris Climate Accords.
Declaring a national climate emergency would bestow up to 148 new statutory powers to President Biden and his bureaucrats. A climate emergency would not look the same as traditional emergency declarations, such as those implemented after hurricanes or floods, which must be localized and temporary with a defined end, once the problem is fixed and the government’s role is complete. None of these limits would apply to a climate change emergency.
The draft resolution that has been introduced by Senate Democrats is much broader. It foresees a climate emergency declaration as a means to stop racism, fix inequality, curb the use and development of fossil fuels and create more bureaucracies.
The loudest voices argue that Biden could make a declaration without Congress. This precedent would fast-track the implementation of many climate activist demands, such as banning crude oil exports, halting further offshore oil and gas development, or forcing companies to build more wind and solar. Planet-saving rhetoric aside, none of these policies will make communities safer or more resilient — only more expensive.
Whole-of-government climate policies are a distraction from implementing practical policies that could make a tangible improvement — and, in the case of Lahaina, save numerous lives. Whether it’s Maui, California or East Palestine, Ohio, Democrats have proven ill-equipped to handle the powers they already have consolidated. They don’t need access to more power and resources: they need a reality check.
Replacing wooden poles with fire resistant materials, expanding evacuation routes or thinning out dead debris from national forests doesn’t grab as many headlines as solar shields or green hydrogen, but they stand to immediately benefit residents.
Mandy Gunasekara is director of the Independent Women’s Forum’s Center for Energy and Conservation and a visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation. She previously served as the chief of staff at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
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