President Obama on Thursday linked hurricanes and other extreme weather events to climate change — the latest move by this White House to keep the issue at the forefront of domestic politics while also pursuing a landmark international agreement to save the planet.
After touring the National Hurricane Center in Miami, the president defended his controversial plan to combat climate change, which centers on new restrictions on power-plant emissions, increased auto fuel efficiency standards and a host of other steps.
Global warming increasingly is a centerpiece of Mr. Obama’s agenda during his final two years in office. Despite strong pushback from lawmakers of both parties — and serious legal challenges to many of his specific actions — the president has made clear his focus on climate change will only grow stronger over the next 20 months.
“The best climate scientists in the world are telling us that extreme weather events like hurricanes are likely to become more powerful. When you combine stronger storms with rising seas, that’s a recipe for more devastating floods,” he said. “Climate change didn’t cause Hurricane Sandy, but it might have made it stronger. The fact that the sea level in New York Harbor is about a foot higher than a century ago certainly made the storm surge worse. And that’s why we are seeking to work with Congress to make sure that we are focused on resilience and the steps we can take to fortify our infrastructure in these communities.”
During a question-and-answer session on Twitter, Mr. Obama also called on teachers to weave climate change into science and social studies classes, arguing that children “instinctively” care about environmental issues.
The president’s domestic climate-change push is one piece of what the White House sees as a broader international fight to save earth from the consequences of a warming planet.
Next month, Mr. Obama will attend a G7 meeting in Bonn, Germany, where German Chancellor Angela Merkel has vowed to put climate change at the top of the agenda. The G7 meeting will serve as something of a preview to a historic United Nations gathering in Paris in December, where world leaders will try to hammer out an unprecedented international climate-change accord.
The administration already has laid out America’s pledge — a 26-to-28 percent reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2030.
China, the world’s top polluter, has said it aims to cap emissions by 2030, though it has yet to release an official proposal ahead of the U.N. conference.
Environmentalists say Mr. Obama has emerged as a global leader on the issue. They applaud him for leading on the international stage despite heavy resistance at home from lawmakers, the energy industry and other foes.
“I don’t think the continued opposition you see from some quarters in the United States is going to deter the administration in any way. I think the international community is well aware of the political circumstances in the United States and very much appreciates the level of commitment they are seeing from this administration, despite the opposition,” Elliot Diringer, executive vice president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, told reporters on a conference call Thursday.
But opponents see Mr. Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency as out of control and bent on imposing its will on climate change and environmental policy regardless of the economic consequences.
The EPA’s power plant regulations, which have yet to be finalized and are not supported by any new legislation, already have found their way before the Supreme Court. Critics this week also have taken aim at new EPA rules that exert federal control over streams, wetlands and other small bodies of water, saying the regulations are the latest example of the administration using executive power to do what it is unable to do through the legislative process.
“The bottom line is that no federal agency should go around Congress to control what has not been legislated, especially when its actions will harm economic growth,” Sen. Joe Manchin, West Virginia Democrat, said in a statement this week.