President Obama to Congress: Act on Climate Change or I Will. Now What Happens?

The message was loud and clear: “We must do more to combat climate change,” President Obama declared in last night’s State of the Union address, echoing the emphasis he placed on the issue during his inaugural address last month. This time, his take was stronger.

“The fact is the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15,” he said, pointing out that heat waves, floods, droughts, and wildfires are 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.”

He urged a bipartisan, market-based solution—seemingly endorsing a cap-and-trade system. Then he got tough.

“If Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will,” he said. “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.”

While environmentalists applauded the President’s call to combat climate change, they pointed out that he can take actions today, rather than waiting to see whether Congress acts.

“How many times do we have to have the problem described?” asked David Yarnold, Audubon president and CEO. “The quickest way to reduce carbon pollution is to follow the smokestacks. Smarter standards for coal-fired power plants are the quickest path to a cleaner future, and the President can make that happen right now.”
The NRDC’s Frances Beinecke and EarthJustice’s Trip Van Noppen agreed that Obama’s first order of business should be to use the power he has, through the EPA (and upheld by the Supreme Court), to reduce carbon pollution from power plants.

Environmentalists are also requesting the President block the XL pipeline, which would transport the world’s dirtiest fossil fuels from the Alberta Tar Sands to U.S. refineries, from which it would exported. In the latest show of protest, opponents are gathering outside the White House today—including the leader of the Sierra Club, whose board of directors approved civil disobedience for the first time in its 120-year history to oppose the pipeline.

Here are a few more actions the administration could take to reduce greenhouse gases, outlined in a new World Resources Institute report:

-Under the Clean Air Act the administration could phase out hydrofluorcarbons, powerful greenhouse gases.

-The Department of Energy could put in place stricter energy-efficiency standards for new appliances.

-The EPA could propose rules regarding natural gas systems that address methane as a greenhouse gas pollutant, which can result in reduced methane leakage throughout the natural gas life cycle.

The President has made a clear call to action. Now we’ll see whether he follows through.


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