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Future U.S. President Could Declare Climate Emergency Citing Trump’s Border Wall Fight as Precedent

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If a future United States president declares emergency authority to deal with the climate crisis, they may end up citing Donald Trump’s fulminations about an emergency at the country’s southern border as a precedent.

That prospect is becoming a fear for congressional Republicans like Senators John Thune (R-SD) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) who “expressed dismay at the potential reverberations of issuing an emergency order to achieve a political victory,” E&E News reports.

“We have to be careful about endorsing broad uses of executive power,” Rubio said last week. “If today the national emergency is border security, tomorrow the national emergency might be climate change.”

With Trump’s partial government shutdown now approaching the four-week mark, legislators remain at odds over the US$5.7 billion the former reality TV star is demanding for the border wall he swore he would get Mexico to pay for. But “even some conservative pundits who support building a wall worry that Trump’s actions on immigration could be harnessed by a future president for climate action,” E&E notes.

“If the President declares a national emergency and starts using eminent domain and reprogrammed dollars to build a wall, it is only a matter of time before a progressive President declares climate change a national emergency and uses eminent domain to shutter coal plants, etc.,” blogger and radio host Erick Erickson tweeted this week.

And former U.S. senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) warned Republicans “that climate change is exactly the type of issue that a future president could address by bypassing Congress,” E&E notes.

“This is a reminder to my [Republican] friends that the Pentagon, Congress, and this administration have all said climate change is a serious threat to national security,” she tweeted. “Will the next President bypass Congress and declare an emergency? This door can swing both ways.”

Democrats in the House and Senate sought to tamp down the possibility of an emergency order, with more than a dozen of them saying they wouldn’t shut down the government over any issue, including climate.

Climate change “really is an existential issue for human beings on this planet [and] for the security of our country, and we’re definitely going to do it,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL). “But it’s not about trading these essential issues. That’s why we have a democracy. That’s why we have order to get things like this done. We just have this intransigent and crazy president, I think a very, very sick man, in the White House who has no capacity to understand issues as important as climate.”

“We have Republicans who want to join us on climate change issues,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD). “We can win on this issue and have the American people with us and have the global community with us.”

“My focus this session is bringing us into working order on a plan to address carbon pollution, which is a worldwide crisis,” added Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY). It’s based on science and evidence that requires us to respond with a degree of urgency.”

But E&E notes that some of Trump’s language in his nine-minute Oval Office address last week could have been applied just as easily (and rather more accurately) to the climate crisis. “It strains public resources and drives down jobs and wages,” he said of illegal immigration, in a claim that E&E says experts immediately disputed. “Among those hardest hit are African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans.”

In the real world beyond Trump’s reach, “poor and minority communities are the most vulnerable to climate impacts, like sea level rise and heat waves,” E&E notes. “Public infrastructure is being destroyed by disasters exacerbated by climate change.”

Trump also claimed congressional Democrats “refused to acknowledge the crisis” of border security, a claim that E&E points out “can be applied to Republicans who ignore and criticize climate science.” While Trump framed border security as a “humanitarian crisis” in which thousands of lives will be lost, “the economic costs of disasters that are sharpened by rising temperatures continuing to mount, even as the Trump administration rolls back environmental protections that restrict greenhouse gases,” E&E states. And “the irony to some experts is that Trump’s concerns about immigration are connected to the changing climate. More refugees stand to flee their homeland in Central America and other regions as food insecurity grows and economies suffer.”

“The reason we care about the changing climate is because it is a threat multiplier,” said Texas Tech atmospheric and political scientist Katharine Hayhoe. “If you think immigration is a problem now, just wait. If you think international competitiveness, or agriculture or water shortages, or the extreme amount of money that is being spent to help cities and regions recover after disasters, if you think any of that is a problem right now, just wait.”