By Jeff Mason and Timothy Gardner
SOMERSET, Mass./WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden said on Wednesday that climate change is an emergency but stopped short of a formal declaration, announcing a modest package of executive actions and promising more aggressive efforts.
Biden made the comments during a visit to Massachusetts and as a historic heat wave batters Europe and the United States. Some 100 million Americans from New York City to Las Vegas will be under heat warnings this week.
"Climate change is literally an existential threat to our nation and to the world," Biden said. "This is an emergency, an emergency, and I will look at it that way."
The announcements included new funding for cooling centers and pushing for new off-shore wind projects in the oil-rich Gulf of Mexico.
Still, those actions fall short of demands by Democratic lawmakers and environmental activists who want Biden to formally declare a climate emergency, which would enable the use of the Defense Production Act to ramp up production of a wide range of renewable energy products and systems.
Biden told reporters that he would decide shortly on whether to make such a declaration.
"I'm running the traps on the ... authority I have," he told reporters as he traveled home from Massachusetts. "I'll make that decision soon."
Biden is under increasing pressure after conservative Democratic Senator Joe Manchin said last week he was not ready to support key climate provisions in Congress, a critical loss in the evenly divided Senate.
Biden has not spoken with Manchin since, he told reporters on Wednesday.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency will provide $2.3 billion in funding to help states build cooling centers to deal with excessive heat and to tackle other impacts of climate change, the White House said as it announced the largest ever investment to the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities Program.
New funding could expand flood control, shore up utilities, retrofit buildings, and help low-income families pay for heating and cooling costs.
Biden also announce new support for the domestic offshore wind industry. The administration has identified 700,000 acres for possible offshore wind energy development in the Gulf of Mexico, the White House said.
Biden spoke from a former coal-fired plant that is playing a role in supporting the state's offshore wind industry as a manufacturing hub for undersea cables.
Biden said more is to come.
"In the coming days, my administration will announce the executive actions we have developed to combat this emergency," Biden said.
Senator Jeff Merkley and eight other Democrats sent a letter to Biden on Wednesday urging him to declare a climate emergency and use aggressive executive actions to limit emissions from fossil fuels produced on public lands and waters and maximize use of electric vehicles.
Biden promised tough action on climate change in his presidential campaign, and it remains a key priority for some voters ahead of Nov. 8 midterms for control of Congress. The U.S. president also pledged in international climate negotiations to cut climate pollution by 50% by 2030 and reach 100% clean electricity by 2035.
But that climate agenda has been derailed by several major setbacks, including Congress failing to pass crucial climate and clean energy measures in a federal budget bill, record-setting gasoline prices, and Russia's invasion of Ukraine disrupting global energy markets.
A Supreme Court ruling last month limiting the federal government's authority to issue sweeping regulations to reduce carbon emissions from power plants also is undermining Biden's climate plans.
When asked whether Biden has concluded there is no longer any option for a climate bill, a senior White House official told reporters that other people could answer that question, evidently suggesting a lot depends on Manchin.
"Our focus is on what we can do," the official said.
(Reporting by Steve Holland, Trevor Hunnicutt, Timothy Gardner, Jeff Mason, Jarrett Renshaw and Nandita Bose; Writing by Timothy Gardner and Jarrett Renshaw; Editing by Trevor Hunnicutt and Lisa Shumaker)