Two Democrats on Capitol Hill are seconding President Obama’s call for real political muscle to address climate change and vowed to form a bipartisan task force — but they haven’t found any Republican takers yet.
The administration found itself under growing pressure on another front, as a bipartisan majority of senators has signed on to a letter seeking approval of a massive new oil pipeline project staunchly opposed by leading environmental groups.
Rep. Henry A. Waxman, California Democrat, and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island Democrat, said Thursday they are trying to round up House and Senate members who want to work to curb carbon emissions, and they said they think they have a window of opportunity thanks to destructive weather events such as Superstorm Sandy.
“The time for action is now,” Mr. Waxman told reporters in announcing the new task force.
Mr. Obama made climate change a surprising focal point of his inaugural address Monday, declaring that failure to act on the issue would “betray our children and future generations.” But Mr. Obama has not indicated a clear path for tough action. His spokesman said Wednesday that the president will not pursue a tax on carbon emissions, but he will seek stricter carbon-pollution regulation through the Environmental Protection Agency.
Mr. Obama’s environmental priorities are being tested, particularly in the face of a lagging economy.
The bipartisan coalition of 53 senators sent a letter to the White House on Wednesday that urges the president to approve the full route of the Canada-to-Texas Keystone XL pipeline, which is backed by business and labor groups.
Among those calling for approval of Keystone are newly minted Democratic Sens. Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota.
“My work will not be done until every Hoosier who wants a job has a job, and the Keystone XL pipeline means jobs for American families and energy security for our country,” Mr. Donnelly said Thursday.
Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said there is broad support for the pipeline and “the only thing holding it up is the administration.”
As for the task force, he said: “First I’ve heard of the ‘bipartisan’ Whitehouse effort.”
Mr. Waxman said he disapproves of the Keystone pipeline and hopes that Mr. Obama will reject the project. But he said he will not withdraw his cooperation on climate reforms if Mr. Obama decides to green-light the pipeline because other factors, such as U.S. relations with Canada, are also at play.
“This is only a small issue compared to the overall objective that the president and we want to achieve,” Mr. Waxman said.
Mr. Waxman, Mr. Whitehouse and Rep. Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts Democrat, sent a letter Thursday asking Mr. Obama to wield his executive powers in reducing greenhouse gases and investing in clean energy, saying that “a much more aggressive plan of action is needed.”
Insurers are backing climate reforms to keep their liabilities in check, and the clean-energy sector is outperforming oil and gas when it comes to creating jobs, Mr. Whitehouse said at the news briefing.