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Obama to push unilateral action against climate change
President Obama says he will renew his push to combat climate change, beginning with a speech Tuesday — but he will find his options more limited than during his first term when temperatures appeared to be on the rise, along with momentum for curbing greenhouse gas emissions at home and abroad.
During the past five years, that momentum has stalled, temperatures have leveled globally and Mr. Obama's marquee piece of climate change legislation collapsed in Congress.
Dan Kish, of the Institute for Energy Research, said the push to combat climate change lost steam as the public lost faith in the computer models used to measure climate change and came to grips with the fact that countries, such as China and India, have shown little interest in cutting greenhouse gas emission. The failed climate change efforts in Europe also have been a factor.
Mr. Kish said Mr. Obama has given up on working with Congress and predicted that Democrats would rely on his executive powers to adopt regulations that could lead to higher electricity costs and give the government a bigger role in the decision-making of everyday consumers.
"He is basically going to make law without Congress via the regulatory actions that he will present and that he alleges that he has the authority to do," he said. "It will probably be up to the courts to decide the extent of those authorities."
The cost of inaction trumps the cost of regulation, others say. The public is more tuned in to the issue than years past, thanks to the improving economy as well as the historic levels of carbon dioxide that have been found in the atmosphere and the "extreme weather" that has walloped parts of the nation.
"In all those ways, the political climate now is better than it was," said David Goldston, of the Natural Resources Defense Council. Mr. Goldston said Mr. Obama likely will seek to bolster energy efficiency standards, accelerate the use of renewable energy and cut allowable carbon emissions from power plants.
"He has the authority under the Clean Air Act to cut carbon polluting from both new and existing power plants," said Mr. Goldston, adding that power plant emissions account for about 40 percent of the nation's carbon footprint.
Mr. Obama is scheduled to speak Tuesday at Georgetown University and said in a Web video over the weekend that he plans to lay out a "national plan to reduce carbon pollution, prepare our country for the impacts of climate change, and lead global efforts to fight it."
"There is no single step that can reverse the effects of climate change, but when it comes to the world we leave our children, we owe it to them to do what we can," Mr. Obama said in the video.
A White House official said that the president's plan will indeed target the carbon pollution coming from power plants, which the official said contributes to higher rates of asthma attacks.
The officials also repeated the president's promise that the plan will seek to prepare the country for the impacts of climate change and to position then nation as a global leader on the issue.
"Together, these steps will also spark the sort of innovation that drives economic growth and creates good-paying jobs that can't be shipped overseas; help modernize our power plants by equipping them with the latest technology to reduce carbon emissions so America remains competitive with other countries; and move our economy towards cleaner, more efficient forms of energy that will cut our reliance on foreign oil," the official said.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday that Mr. Obama's approach to the issue will reflect the "reality" that Congress has failed to deal with the issue.
"If there is a sign that Congress has the will to take up matters related to reducing carbon pollution and doing other things to positively affect the development of clean energy or reducing the impacts of climate change on the American people, then we will obviously be more than happy to engage with Congress and will do that," Mr. Carney said. "But the president will, as he did in his first term, take the actions that he can, using his authority, to address this challenge."
Congress torpedoed a major piece of Mr. Obama's climate change push in 2009 when the Democrat-controlled Senate failed to muster the votes needed to pass his "cap-and-trade" proposal. The bill passed the House, which Democrats also controlled.
The vote haunted Democrats in 2010 elections, when Republicans picked up 63 seats and control of the House after knocking off a number of Democrats who supported cap-and-trade.
Since that legislation failed, Mr. Obama — working primarily through the Environmental Protection Agency — has adopted fuel-economy standards for automobiles and proposed tough emissions standards for new coal-fired power plants, which critics say would amount to a de facto ban on new coal plants.
The administration and its supporters, meanwhile, also point to the billions of dollars Mr. Obama has poured into renewable-energy projects, such as wind and solar power, as examples of his commitment to reduce carbon emissions and fight climate change.
Still, the issue largely floated under the radar during the presidential election campaign last year. Instead, the debate focused on the economy, jobs and government spending.
Mr. Obama signaled his plans to revive the subject in his second inaugural address, challenging those who "still deny the overwhelming judgment of science" and arguing that the failure to tackle the issue would "betray our children and future generations."
The Pew Research Center released a poll after the inaugural address that found Americans ranked climate change last on a list of 21 priorities for lawmakers — well behind the top three: strengthening the economy, creating jobs and reducing the budget deficit.
A Pew poll released in February showed 34 percent of the public viewed climate-change policies as something that must be tackled this year, while 62 percent of those surveyed favored stricter emission limits on power plants.
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About the Author
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Ben Wolfgang covers the White House for The Washington Times.
Before joining the Times in March 2011, Ben spent four years as a political reporter at the Republican-Herald in Pottsville, Pa.
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