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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Biden makes first trip to Washington since becoming president, talking climate change and more on Earth Day

SEATTLE – It is the beginning of a “new day” in fighting climate change, President Joe Biden said Friday at an Earth Day event in Seattle.

Biden’s two-day West Coast tour neared its end in Seattle’s Seward Park, where Biden touted the recently passed infrastructure package and pushed Congress to pass additional funding to lower carbon emissions.

“This could be a moment of enormous hope and enormous opportunity,” Biden said Friday.

Friday’s visit was his first to Washington since becoming president. He followed it with an event in Auburn where he talked affordability and called on Congress to lower health care and energy costs. At both events, he was joined by Gov. Jay Inslee and the state’s Democratic Congressional delegation.

The Washington and Oregon tour comes as he continues pushing for more funding from Congress for lowering carbon emissions and fighting climate change, and as Democrats prepare for what is likely to be a difficult November midterm election.

Surrounded by bright cherry blossoms and large evergreens in Seward Park, Biden signed an executive order calling on government agencies to protect mature and old-growth forests, strengthen reforestation partnerships and fight global deforestation.

He said the country’s natural wonders inspire him to take action.

“Around this country, there used to be a hell of a lot more forests like this,” Biden said, adding it’s important to “keep what we have and increase what we have.”

The executive order signed Friday will use $8 billion from the federal infrastructure package and $5.7 billion from the annual budget to strengthen the country’s forests with a science-based approach, according to his office. It will be in addition to a recently developed 10-year strategic plan to treat 50 million acres of federal and nonfederal forest lands.

Part of that will be conducting the country’s first-ever inventory of mature and old-growth forests on federal lands. That process will include establishing consistent definitions for mature and old-growth forests, something senior administration officials say doesn’t currently exist. The Department of the Interior and the U.S. Department of Agriculture will then analyze threats facing these forests, such as wildfires and climate change.

“Achieving our ambitious climate goals is going to require nature itself,” Biden said.

The order also requires the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce and the Interior to work with state, local and tribal governments and private sector organizations to advance forest-related economic opportunities.

Washington State leaders had long called on the federal government to manage forests on federal lands.

Last July, Inslee and other Western governors called on the Biden administration to increase investment for wildfire fighting, and better manage federal lands. In November and February, Sen. Patty Murray and a number of other members of Congress wrote to the Biden administration asking him to conserve old-growth forests.

“We owe it to our kids and future generations to do everything we can to fight climate change and preserve the wild spaces that make Washington state so special – this executive order will do both,” Murray said in a statement Friday. “Protecting old-growth forests is a simple but important strategy in the fight against climate change.”

Sen. Maria Cantwell said in a statement that preserving America’s forestlands is “one of the greatest Earth Day gifts we can give.”

“This executive order is a smart, nature-based way to combat climate change and wildfires, increase outdoor recreation opportunities, and strengthen our sustainable forest products industry,” she said.

Biden also highlighted a number of other actions his administration has taken to fight climate change. He pointed to new funding for transit, including light rail in Seattle; adding 500,000 new charging stations for electric vehicles nationwide; and creating a goal of having 50% of vehicles made in the U.S. be electric by 2030.

But those achievements come as Biden is continuing to push Congress to pass his even bigger infrastructure package, including $550 billion to cut carbon emissions. A lot has been done in funding already passed, Biden said.

“Cities and states are acting. Businesses are acting. I’m acting,” Biden said. “We need Congress to act.”

At a later event at Green River College in Auburn, Biden talked about health care and affordability.

Much of his talk focused on lowering the price of prescription drugs by capping insulin prices at $35 per month and letting Medicare negotiate the price of prescription drugs. He also talked about expansion of health care coverage enrollment under the Affordable Care Act.

Washington State Republican Party Chairman Caleb Heimlich criticized the Biden administration for causing families across the country to suffer.

“Washington voters know that the sky-high inflation is a direct result of Biden’s massive federal spending spree,” Heimlich said in a statement.

Biden said in Auburn he was continuing to work to control inflation, and America continues to come back stronger after crisis.

“I’m more optimistic about America today than I’ve been my whole, my whole career,” Biden said.

Laurel Demkovich's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.