Climate Change Resurfaces in National Dialogue

In his inaugural address, President Obama pledged to respond to climate change “knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.” Obama elevated the issue of climate change into the top tier of his second-term priorities, alongside gun control and immigration reform.

Below are his full remarks regarding climate change:

obama inaug_2013

“We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But American cannot resist this transition—we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries—we must claim its promise. That’s how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure—our forests and waterways, our crop lands and snow-capped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God.”

But he may have given the best hint of what he sees as possible on climate change through another line in his inaugural that addressed his entire agenda.

“We must act, we must act knowing that our work will be imperfect,” he said. “We must act, knowing that today’s victories will be only partial, and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years, and 40 years, and 400 years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.”

Cutting Carbon without Congress

Although it is too soon to tell whether a commitment to climate change in a second term will translate into a push for legislation in 2013, there are other options available to Obama reports The Washington Post. Chief among them is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The agency has the authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon dioxide and impose carbon limits on existing coal- and gas-fired utilities, which are responsible for some 2.4 billion tons of carbon dioxide annually—or about 40 percent of total U.S. emissions. These “stationary sources” are covered in section 111 of the Act, which has provisions for regulating. How these rules are constructed will help to define Obama’s term.

By April, the EPA is expected to complete carbon emissions standards for new power plants—closely followed by those for existing sources. As The National Journal notes, Obama’s climate change vow could make the EPA a political target.

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