The Obama administration is wasting no time wrapping itself in Pope Francis’s call for dramatic action on climate change, deploying Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy to the University of Notre Dame Friday to again make the case the U.S. has a “moral obligation” to rein in greenhouse gas emissions.
EPA officials said Ms. McCarthy’s address and subsequent press conference on the campus of the nation’s most well-known Catholic university will center on how the president’s climate action plan will improve public health, lead to cleaner air and result in public health benefits for all Americans.
Ms. McCarthy’s speech — in which she’s expected to defend the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, the first set of federal limits on carbon pollution from power plants — will come 24 hours after Francis spoke to a joint session of Congress and urged the U.S. and the world to protect the planet.
The pontiff and Mr. Obama, while on opposite sides of issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage, have become key allies on climate change and the environment.
Pope Francis didn’t make global warming a major point in his historic address to lawmakers Thursday, but he did reiterate his belief that the U.S. must play a leading role in confronting the growing problem.
“I am convinced that we can make a difference,” he said, adding that technological advances gave him reason for optimism. “In this regard, I am confident that America’s outstanding academic and research institutions can make a vital contribution in the years ahead.”
At the White House Wednesday, the pontiff essentially endorsed the Clean Power Plan, and this past summer, he released a lengthy encyclical citing the damage humans are doing to the plane and calling on all governments to take similar steps to reduce harmful emissions.
The EPA did not respond to requests for comment Thursday on whether Ms. McCarthy’s speech was scheduled to coincide with the pontiff’s first U.S. visit and his accompanying climate-change message.
While Pope Francis called for unity Thursday, the issue of climate change has divided Catholics, with many Republicans rejecting the pope’s positions on global warming and urging him to refrain from entering into hot-button political debates.
Specialists say it’s no surprise that the president and his allies on Capitol Hill would seek to cash on Pope Francis’s comments and use them to justify their highly controversial climate policies.
“If there’s one thing we know about the climate change mafia, if you will, it is that they are first and foremost interested in public relations,” said Dan Kish, senior vice president for policy at the conservative Institute for Energy Research. “The fact that the pope has taken … the position he has taken on this provides them an opportunity to rub that in further for public consumption.”
For their part, many Republicans avoided criticizing Pope Francis directly while he’s on U.S. soil and instead praised the pontiff’s general message and redirecting their fire at the White House.
“As the pope stated in his address, Congress has an important role to play in how the United States cares for our environment,” said Sen. James Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican and chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “Unfortunately, President Obama has taken a different approach during his time in office. He instead has worked for the past seven years to cut Congress out of environmental policy by way of regulatory overreach with his so-called Clean Power Plan.”
A C-SPAN feed of the papal address in the House chamber showed Mr. Inhofe listening without expression as the pontiff read his remarks in sometimes halting English on the environment.
Federal data have shown the Clean Power Plan will drive up electricity rates for most Americans.
The proposal requires states to come up with their own plans to dramatically cut carbon emissions over the next five years. The agency admits that coal’s share of U.S. power generation will drop significantly as a result of the plan.