What a wasted opportunity the Obama presidency has been. He was elected with a mandate for change. At his first inaugural speech he spoke strongly about the risks of climate change and the need for urgent action. His first term slipped away with nothing done. It has taken until now for Obama to finally act:
Barack Obama pledges to bypass Congress to tackle climate change
US president says country is already paying price of inaction and backs nuclear energy and fracking in comprehensive strategy
Barack Obama has taken an historic step forward in confronting climate change, asserting his power as US president to cut carbon pollution and protect future generations from catastrophic global warming.
In a speech on Tuesday at Georgetown University, delivered outdoors on a sweltering hot day, Obama went further than any previous US president in outlining a comprehensive strategy for dealing with climate change. He also said he would continue to press the issue as a priority of his second term even in the face of implacable opposition from Republicans in Congress.
“I refuse to condemn your generation and future generations to a planet that’s beyond fixing,” Obama said to a gathering of students.
It may already be too late. But trying to take action is still the only sane option.
Obama outlined a broad range of measures to cut greenhouse gas emissions and promote the development of renewable energy, protect coastlines and cities from flooding and sea-level rise, and encourage efforts to reach a global climate deal.
The over-arching goal was to put the US on track to meet its commitment to cut carbon emissions 17% from 2005 levels by the end of the decade.
Here’s the massive game-changer in political terms:
But Obama’s boldest move by far was the decision to bypass a deadlocked Congress and issue an executive memo to the Environmental Protection Agency, calling for new rules curbing greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
The Tea Party / Republican Party in Congress are a bunch of anti-science crazies who will never agree to any action to tackle climate change. But Obama doesn’t need them. Thanks to a ruling in 2009 (that I wrote about here) - Obama can instruct the EPA to act under already existing legislation. He doesn’t need the approval of Congress / Senate. It has taken him a long, long 4 years to use that power, but use it he finally has.
Such measures were long overdue, Obama said. “Power plants can still dump limitless carbon pollution into the air for free,” he said. “That’s not right, that’s not safe and it needs to stop.”
Curbing emissions from power plants would be the single-most significant action against climate change in Obama’s power. Power plants are responsible for a third of America’s greenhouse gas emissions.
… As anticipated, however, the measure ran into fierce opposition from Republicans and industry, even before Obama had delivered his speech. But the president pushed back on the idea that he was overstepping by ordering the EPA to act. “The idea of setting higher pollution standards for our power plants is not new. It’s just time for Washington to catch up with the rest of the country,” he said.
Obama also said he was willing to work across the political divide but would not tolerate attempts to cast doubt on the science underlying climate change. “We don’t have time for a meeting of the flat earth society,” Obama said to applause.
An apt comparison. At this point climate change denial is the modern day equivalent of flat-earthism (without the redeeming feature of quaint eccentricity).
With Tuesday’s speech, however, Obama appears to have firmly adopted climate action as his own brand.
Administration officials briefing reporters on the climate plan said the White House hoped to propose the rules for existing power plants by June 2014, finalising the rules one year later. They said proposed rules for new plants could be forthcoming as early as September. That timetable could set in place mechanisms to deliver meaningful cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by the time Obama leaves office.
Sounds good but:
But there are bound to be legal and political challenges, and it was not immediately clear how stringent the new power plant rules would be. It was also unclear how the actions promised by Obama would play out in the long term.
Come on Obama. Last chance. Make it count. Please.