NewsFebruary 13, 2013

Obama: Will Act on Climate, With or Without Congress

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By Lauren Morello

President Barack Obama said Tuesday night that he will use his executive powers to enact new policies to fight climate change if Congress does not address the issue.

In his fourth State of the Union address, and his first since winning re-election, Obama linked climate change to recent extreme weather events to make his case.

“For the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change,” he said. “No single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires and floods – all are now more frequent and intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science — and act before it's too late.

“But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.”

The president offered few hints about his ultimate plans. Obama did endorse a “bipartisan, market-based solution” to climate change, citing a series of cap-and-trade bills introduced several years ago by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and now-retired Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.).

And he also called for stronger energy efficiency standards and proposed using revenue from oil and gas production on federal lands to develop alternative fuel technologies, including electric- and natural gas-powered vehicles and biofuels.

But with Congress deadlocked on gun control, immigration reform and spending legislation, and many Republicans questioning the bona fides of climate change science, the prospect of lawmakers taking on climate change legislation appears slim. (For more on that front, see Wendy Koch’s story in USA Today.)

Obama’s State of the Union remarks may reframe the issue, “put[ting] the onus for failure on Capitol Hill,” argue Politico reporters Andrew Restuccia and Darius Dixon.

“President Barack Obama gave Congress an ultimatum in his State of the Union address Tuesday night,” the pair wrote. “Pass climate legislation or brace yourself for an administration-wide assault on greenhouse gas emissions.”

Meanwhile, many environmentalists parsing Obama’s speech hope it signals new regulations limiting greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, Peter Nicholas and Colleen McCain Nelson reported in the Wall Street Journal:

Under Mr. Obama, the Environmental Protection Agency is already moving to regulate emissions for new power plants. Talk of further executive actions was seen by environmentalists as a signal that he will pursue a similar course for existing plants, which would mark a significant regulatory expansion.

Others were disappointed at the lack of specific proposals in Obama’s speech, reports Politico’s Goode:

While we are excited to hear the president connect the dots between climate change and increasingly severe weather, accurately explaining the problem is not nearly enough,” said the climate activist group Forecast the Facts. “Tonight, President Obama set the lowest possible bar for action. . . . In fact, he pledged no specific actions at all.

For more on what Obama could do on the climate change front without an assist from Congress, check out these recent stories from David Roberts at Grist, Ben Geman at The Hill, and Climate Central’s own Andrew Freedman.

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