Obama to flex executive muscle for climate change action

By Stephen C. Webster
Tuesday, June 25, 2013 10:31 EDT
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Obama via AFP
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President Barack Obama will present a plan on Tuesday that relies upon his executive power to take direct action on mitigating climate change.

The centerpiece of the administration’s plan (PDF) will see the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issuing new pollution reduction standards for existing power plants, which the plan says account for “one-third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions.”

Additionally, the administration is directing the Department of the Interior to issue more permits for renewable energy development on public lands, aiming to add 10 gigawatts of renewable energy to the U.S. grid by 2020. On that same tip, the Department of Defense is also putting a major focus on renewable energy development, angling to build installations on military facilities that output 3 gigawatts of renewable electricity by 2025.

Much of the administration’s plan is also focused on encouraging the growth of a renewable energy economy, pushing billions into solar and wind energy research, geothermal development, carbon sequestration technology to make fossil fuels cleaner and research that makes emerging nuclear technologies smaller and safer. Major investments in hardening government infrastructure to the effects of climate change are also on the table.

The plan also calls for progressively growing fuel standards for passenger and freight vehicles. The administration has already improved fuel economy for vehicles shipping from 2014-2018, but in the president’s second term he intends to push through post-2018 standards that boost fuel-driven vehicles up to 54.5 miles per gallon in 2025. The plan claims that change alone should save individual drivers over $8,000 a year on average.

Finally, the administration says it will work through trade agreements to encourage imports and exports of climate-friendly products, which in turn will further engage developing economies that are projected to account for the largest growth in human emissions in the coming decades.

Obama’s climate plan is crafted in such a way that it relies exclusively upon the power inherent to the presidency, meaning Congress does not need to be consulted. This is in keeping with the president’s pledge to maximize his administrative capacity due to the gridlock in Washington.

Obama took similar action on immigration, enacting portions of the long-stalled DREAM Act by directing federal agencies to prioritize undocumented immigrants with criminal records and de-prioritize students who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children. He also used executive authority to begin the push for greater gun control after the Sandy Hook massacre, although the most important components of the administration’s proposals require congressional approval.

Still, there are sure to be critics of Obama’s climate actions in Congress, but it’s not clear if they can do anything to stop the president here. The Hill noted that a law passed during the Clinton administration would let Congress nullify federal agency regulations, but it has only been used once.

Even so, Republicans are already in push-back mode. “While President Obama is preparing to roll out a new ream of red tape that will make American energy more expensive and destroy jobs, the House is moving forward with its all-of-the-above energy agenda this week,” House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-OH) office told The Hill.

The Senate could also gum up the works by continuing to stall Obama’s nominee to lead the EPA, Gina McCarthy, who currently serves as assistant administrator of the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. Republicans have consistently pushed back against Obama’s nominations, and McCarthy’s could become a red-hot controversy if Republicans seize upon Obama’s climate plans and the EPA’s integral role in seeing them carried out.

That’s due to McCarthy’s last appearance before Congress, when she told senators in April that the EPA was not developing plans to regulate carbon emissions from existing power plants. She also told senators that the Obama administration would prefer to go through Congress to address climate change, rather than flex executive muscle.

Speaking to The Washington Post, Stephen Brown, VP of government affairs for oil refinery company Tesoro Corp., said that the administration’s announcement Tuesday essentially means McCarthy doesn’t have a chance in the Senate. “I guess they are kissing Gina McCarthy ‘goodbye’ with this announcement as well,” he reportedly said.

Despite the near certainty of a fight, the plan has also heartened climate activists, who praised Obama Tuesday for finally making good on his five-year-old promise to take direct action on climate.

“We are heartened to see President Obama finally responding to the millions of Americans under assault from increasingly dangerous extreme weather with concrete plans to address carbon pollution,” Daniel Souweine, director of the advocacy group Forecast the Facts, said in an advisory. “But if he wants to beat back the climate change deniers and industry supporters gearing up in opposition, the President will need the overwhelming support of the grassroots, which requires shelving his misguided ‘all-of-the-above’ energy policy. Anything less means that the President will be fighting the most powerful industry in the history of the world without the strongest weapon at his disposal — people power.”

Updated from an original version with a statement from Forecast the Facts.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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