Remarks on Efforts To Combat the Climate Crisis in Somerset, Massachusetts
Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. And thank you for your patience. You've been sitting out here. Appreciate it—please, have a seat, if you have one.
Well, hello, Massachusetts. It's an honor to be with your outstanding Members of Congress today: Senator Ed Markey. Ed? Where's—there you go. Senator Elizabeth Warren. Congressman Auchincloss. Where is she? There you go, Jake. Bill Keating—Congressman.
And your great former Members and one of my dearest friends, John Kerry, who's doing a great job leading our international Special Presidential Envoy on Climate, traveling the world and talking with an awful lot of people he's talking into moving more than they've been doing.
And another great Massachusetts native, Gina McCarthy. Gina? There she is. My National Climate Adviser is leading our climate efforts here at home.
It's an honor to be joined by your neighbor by—your neighbor from Rhode Island. He's not a bad guy at all. [Laughter] I live in his house. Sheldon Whitehouse, a great champion—[laughter]—a great champion of the environment. And he'd been banging away at it.
I come here today with a message: 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 and our communities is literally at stake.
The U.N.'s leading international climate scientists called the latest climate report nothing less than, quote, "code red for humanity." Let me say it again: "Code red for humanity." It's not a group of political officials—elected officials. These are the scientists.
We see here in America, in red States and blue States, extreme weather events costing $145 billion—$145 billion—in damages just last year: more powerful and destructive hurricanes and tornadoes. I've flown over the vast majority of them out west and down in Louisiana, all across America. It's amazing to see.
Ravaging hundred-year-old droughts occurring every few years instead of every hundred years. Wildfires out west that have burned and destroyed more than 5 million acres, everything in its path. That is more land than the entire State of New Jersey, from New York down to the tip of Delaware. It's amazing. Five million acres.
Our national security is at stake as well. Extreme weather is already damaging our military installations here in the States. And our economy is at risk. So we have to act. Extreme weather disrupts supply chains, causing delays and shortages for consumers and businesses. Climate change is literally an existential threat to our Nation and to the world.
So my message today is this: Since Congress is not acting as it should—and these guys here are, but we're not getting many Republican votes—this is an emergency. An emergency. And I will—I will—look at it that way.
I said last week and I'll say it again loud and clear: As President, I'll use my executive powers to combat climate—the climate crisis in the absence of congressional actions, notwithstanding their incredible action.
In the coming days, my administration will announce the executive actions we have developed to combat this emergency. We need to act.
But just take a look around: Right now 100 million Americans are under heat alert—100 million Americans. Ninety communities across America set records for high temperatures just this year, including here in New England as we speak.
And by the way, records have been set in the Arctic and the Antarctic, with temperatures that are just unbelievable, melting the permafrost. And it's astounding the damage that's being done.
And this crisis impacts every aspect of our 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 is designed to withstand the full range of disasters we've been seeing up to today: extreme heat, drought, flooding, hurricanes, tornadoes.
Right now there are millions of people suffering from extreme heat at home. So my team is also working with the States to deploy $385 million right now.
For the first time, States will be able to use Federal funds to pay for air conditioners in homes, set up community cooling centers in schools where people can get through these extreme heat crises. And I mean people—and crises that are 100 to 117 degrees.
An infrastructure law that your Members of Congress have delivered includes $3.1 billion to weatherize homes and make them more energy efficient, which will lower energy costs while keeping America cool in the summer and warm in the winter, and not using too much energy.
And my Department of Labor, led by a guy named Marty Walsh——
[At this point, the President imitated a Boston accent.]
He talks funny, but he's a hell of a guy. But all kidding aside, Marty was a great mayor, and I know—I know he knows how to get a job done. And he's doing two things for me:
First of all, as Secretary of Labor, he's developing the first-ever workplace standards for extreme heat, saying, under these conditions, if it hits this point—you cannot do the following—you cannot ask people to do a certain thing.
Second, he's sending folks out from the Labor Department to make sure we hold workplaces and—to those standards that are being set. They've already completed over 500 heat-related inspections of workplaces across 43 States. At the end of the day, it's going to save lives.
Now, let me tell you why we're here at Brayton Point. Five years ago, this towering power plant that once stood with cooling towers 500 feet high closed down. The coal plant at Brayton Point was the largest of its kind in New England—1,500 megawatts of power, enough to power one in five Massachusetts homes and businesses.
For over 50 years, this plant supported this region's economy through their electric—the electricity they supplied, the good jobs they provided, and the local taxes they paid.
But the plant, like many others around the country, had another legacy: one of toxins, smog, greenhouse gas emissions, the kind of pollution that contributed to the climate emergency we now face today.
Gina McCarthy, a former regulator in Massachusetts, was telling me on the way up how folks used to get a rag out and wipe the gunk off of their car's windshields in the morning just to be able to drive—not very much unlike where I grew up in a place called Claymont, Delaware—which has more oil refineries than Houston, Texas, had in its region—just across the line in Pennsylvania. And all the prevailing winds were our way.
I just lived up the road. I just—in an apartment complex when we moved to Delaware. And just up the road was a little school I went to, Holy Rosary grade school. And because it was a four-lane highway that was accessible, my mother drove us and—rather than us be able to walk.
And guess what? The first frost, you knew what was happening. You had to put on your windshield wipers to get, literally, the oil slick off the window. That's why I and so damn many other people I grew up [with]* have cancer and why—for the longest time, Delaware had the highest cancer rate in the Nation.
But that's the past, and we're going to get—we're going to build a different future with one—one with clean energy, good-paying jobs.
Just 15 years ago, America generated more than half its electricity from coal—coal-fired plants. Today, that's down to 20 percent because there's a big transition happening. Many of these fossil fuel plants are becoming sites for new clean energy construction. Others are switching to new, clean technologies.
Look at Brayton Point. Today, Brayton is one of the frontiers—on the frontier of clean energy in America. On this site, they'll manufacture four hundred—248 miles of high-tech, heavy-duty cables. Those specialized, subsea cables are necessary to tie offshore wind farms to the existing grid.
Manufacturing these cables will mean good-paying jobs for 250 workers—as many workers as the old plant—power plant had at its peak.
And the port here, 34 feet deep, was used to carry coal into the power plant. Now we're going to use that same port to carry components of—for wind power into the sea. The converter station here and the substation nearby are the assets that move energy across the power lines.
They'll now move clean electricity generated offshore by the wind—enough power to power hundreds of thousands of homes onto the grid—putting old assets to work delivering clean energy. This didn't happen by accident. It happened because we believed and invested in America's innovation and ingenuity.
One of the companies investing in the factory here joined me at the White House this month. Vineyard Winds, whose CEO told me about the ground-breaking project labor agreements they've negotiated and would create good-paying union jobs. And I want to compliment Congressman Bill Keating for his work in this area. I'm also proud to point out that my administration approved the first commercial project for offshore wind in America, which is being constructed by Vineyard Winds.
Folks, elsewhere in the country, we are propeling retrofits and ensuring that even where fossil fuel plant retires, they still have a role in powering the future. In Illinois, for example, the State has launched a broad effort to invest in converting old power plants to solar farms, led by Governor Pritzker. In California, the IBEW members have helped turn a former oil plant into the world's largest battery storage facility—the world's largest facility. In Wyoming, innovators are chosen to—a retiring plant as the next site for the next-generation nuclear plant.
And my administration is a partner in that progress, driving Federal resources and funding to the communities that have powered this country for generations. And that's why they need to be taken care of as well.
I want to thank Cecil Roberts, a friend and president of United Mine Workers of America, and so many other labor leaders who worked with this—worked with on these initiatives.
Since I took office, we've invested more than $4 billion in Federal funding to the 25 hardest hit coal communities in the country, from West Virginia, to Kentucky, to Wyoming, to New Mexico. Through the infrastructure law, we're investing in clean hydrogen, nuclear, and carbon capture with the largest grid investment in American history.
We've secured $16 billion to clean up abandoned mines and wells, protecting thousands of communities from toxins and waste, particularly methane. And we still—and we're going to seal leaking methane pollution, an incredibly power [powerful]* greenhouse gas that's 40 times more dangerous to the environment than carbon dioxide. And, folks, with American leadership back on climate, I was able to bring more world leaders together than—we got 100 nations together to agree that—at their major conference in Glasgow, England—I mean, Scotland—to change the emissions policies we had.
We've made real progress, but there is an enormous task ahead. We have to keep retaining and recruiting building trades and union electricians for jobs in wind, solar, hydrogen, nuclear, creating even more and better jobs.
We have to revitalize communities, especially those fence-line communities that are smothered by the legacy of pollution. We have to outcompete China and in the world and make these technologies here in the United States, not have to import them.
Folks, when I think about climate change—and I've been saying this for 3 years—I think jobs. Climate change, I think jobs. Almost 100 wind turbines going up off the coasts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island with ground broken and work underway.
Jobs manufacturing 2,500-ton steel foundations that anchor these offshore wind farms to the sea's floor. Jobs manufacturing a Jones Act vessel in Texas to service these offshore wind farms.
We're going to make sure that the ocean is open for the clean energy of our future, and everything we can do—give a green light to wind power on the Atlantic coast, where my predecessor's actions only created confusion.
And today we begin 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.
Let's clear the way—let's clear the way—for clean energy and connect these projects to the grid. I've directed my administration to clear every Federal hurdle and streamline Federal permitting that brings these clean energy projects on line right now and right away. And some of you have already come up and talked to me about that.
And while so many Governors and mayors have been strong partners in this fight to tackle climate change, we need all Governors and mayors. We need public utility commissioners and State agency heads. We need electric utilities and developers to stand up and be part of the solution. Don't be a road block.
You all have a duty right now to our economy, to our competitiveness in the world, to the young people in this Nation, and to future generations—and that sounds like hyperbole but it's not; it's real—to act boldly on climate.
And so does Congress, which—notwithstanding the leadership of the men and women that are here today—has failed in this duty. Not a single Republican in Congress stepped up to support my climate plan. Not one.
So let me be clear: Climate change is an emergency. And in the coming weeks, I'm going to use the power I have as President to turn these words into formal, official government actions through the appropriate proclamations, Executive orders, and regulatory power that a President possesses.
And when it comes to fighting the climate change—climate change, I will not take no for an answer. I will do everything in my power to clean our air and water, protect our people's health, to win the clean energy future. This, again, sounds like hyperbole, but our children and grandchildren are counting on us. Not a joke. Not a joke.
If we don't keep it below 1.5 degrees Centigrade, we lose it all. We don't get to turn it around. And the world is counting on us. And this is the United States of America. When we put our hearts and minds to it, there's not a single thing beyond our capacity—I mean it—when we act together. And of all the things we should be acting together on, it's climate. It's climate.
And by the way, my dear mother—God rest her soul—used to say, "Joey, out of everything bad, something good will come if you look hard enough." Look what's happening. We're going to be able to create as many or more good-paying jobs. We're going to make environments and where people live safer. We're going to make the clean—the air safer. I really mean it. We have an opportunity here.
I'll bet you when you see what's happened here in this cable construction here—manufacturing—and you go back and ask all the people who grew up in this beautiful place what they'd rather have: Do they want the plant back with everything it had, or what you're going to have? I will be dumbfounded if you find anybody, other than for pure sentimental reasons, saying, "I'd rather have the coal plant."
I'll end by telling you another quick story. When we moved from Scranton—when coal died in Scranton, everything died in Scranton. And my dad wasn't a coal miner. My great—my great-grandfather was a mining engineer. But my dad was in sales, and there was no work. So we left to go down to Delaware, where I told you where those oil plants were.
But I remember driving home—when you take the trolley in Scranton, going out North Washington and Adams Avenues. Within 15 blocks—we didn't live in the neighborhood—among the most prestigious neighborhood in the region, in the town where the Scrantons and other good, decent people lived, there was a—you'd go by a wall that—my recollection is, it was somewhere between 15 and 18 feet tall. And it went for the—essentially, a city block.
And you could see the coal piled up to the very top of the wall from inside. It was a coal-fired plant—a coal-fired plant. And all of that—all of the negative impacts of breathing that coal, the dust were effecting everybody. But at the time, people didn't know it and there wasn't any alternative.
Folks, we have no excuse now. We know it. There are answers for it. We can make things better in terms of jobs. We can make things better in terms of the environment. We can make things better for families overall. So I'm looking forward to this movement.
Thank you, thank you, thank you. May God bless you all, and may God protect our troops. Thank you.
NOTE: The President spoke at 2:43 p.m. at the Brayton Point Power Station. In his remarks, he referred to Klaus Skoust Moeller, chief executive officer, Vineyard Wind; and former President Donald J. Trump.
* White House correction.
Joseph R. Biden, Remarks on Efforts To Combat the Climate Crisis in Somerset, Massachusetts Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/356893