White House adviser says Obama will move soon on climate, domestically and internationally

Source: Elizabeth Harball, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, June 13, 2013

A White House adviser said yesterday that President Obama will soon renew his domestic efforts on climate change, as promised in his second State of the Union address, and follow the strides he made with China last weekend with further international engagement on the issue.

Shortly after former Vice President Al Gore predicted an “inevitable” rise in renewable energy as the keynote speaker at Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse’s (D-R.I.) annual Environmental Leaders Day in Washington, D.C., Heather Zichal, Obama’s deputy assistant for energy and climate change, announced that “in the coming weeks and months, you can expect to hear more from the president on this issue.”

“As he said in his State of the Union address, if Congress will not act, then he will,” Zichal continued. “Congress has not yet delivered a common-sense, market-based solution, so our focus moving forward will be on executive actions.”

The president will further his domestic support of energy efficiency and clean energy, Zichal said, and plans to continue to use the Clean Air Act as a tool to advance his climate agenda, as he did last year by completing rules for 54.5-mpg vehicle fuel efficiency standards by 2025 (ClimateWire, Sept. 4, 2012).

The president also hopes to phase out fossil fuel subsidies, Zichal said, arguing that such a move would make fiscal and environmental sense: “The fact that $4 billion goes to oil and gas industry annually at a time that we’re making difficult decisions about … what programs need to be cut, this is an area we can ill afford to continue supporting.”

Seeking reductions in international fossil fuel subsidies may be one of the White House’s next foreign policy steps with regard to climate change, Zichal hinted.

Obama’s recent agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping to limit the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are especially potent greenhouse gases used in refrigerators and air conditioners, is “just the first step of a very long and robust international climate agenda for the second term,” she said (ClimateWire, June 10).

Waxman calls for swift executive action

Following Zichal’s remarks, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) bemoaned the legislative branch’s inaction on climate change, blaming a rocky economy and “the most anti-environmental Congress in the history of the country” for the failure to produce any action on this issue.

Waxman, who co-authored the “American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009,” said that even if a similar bill were pushed through today’s Senate, he doubted whether it would be taken up by the House.

In place of congressional action, Waxman echoed Zichal’s mentions of the Clean Air Act and international negotiations as areas where Obama can make a significant impact. Waxman said that he and Whitehouse are planning on compiling a list of recommendations on how the White House can act “under existing authority” to deal with climate change.

Following the event, Whitehouse confirmed that he and Waxman met with White House chief of staff Denis McDonough to discuss climate change as recently as two weeks ago.

Earlier, Zichal said that the president “remains committed” to his goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, but Waxman said the president must move quickly if he is to be effective in dealing with the issue.

“Three-and-a-half years seems like a long period of time,” he said. “Instead, you have to figure in all the time it takes for proposals to be made and regulations to be proposed, and all the input and comments on those regulations. There are a lot of steps that have to be taken, and we have to press them to take not only bold and ambitious action, but to do it fast in order to make the timetable work.”

In his concluding remarks, Waxman said, “If the president moves with all the powers that he has, I believe that some of these industries are going to come back to Congress and say, ‘We would rather have you legislate. We’d rather have a carbon tax. We’d rather have something that gives us more flexibility than simply the regulations.’ That’s what we hope may be down the road.”