Obama Promises a Big Push on Climate Change

The president appears determined to confront climate change, with or without the help of Congress.

Yesterday, President Barack Obama devoted the biggest single section of his second inaugural address to the problem of climate change. He has clearly decided to make confronting climate change a central objective of his second term. In his second inaugural address the president declared, “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.” Just how will "we" respond? By pursuing the “long and sometimes difficult …path towards sustainable energy sources.” The president insisted that we must do this because “we cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries.” By claiming the “promise” of clean energy technologies “we will maintain our economic vitality” and “preserve our planet.”

So what will the president do? Last week, Michael Brune, the executive director of the environmental lobbying group the Sierra Club urged President Obama to do an end run around a recalcitrant Congress and exercise his “full executive authority” to promulgate regulations that would cut greenhouse gas emissions by limiting the production of fossil fuels. The Sierra Club launched its first 100 days “Obama Climate and Clean Energy Legacy Campaign” with the goal of pressuring Obama to “tackle the most serious environmental crisis of our age.” Given the prominence that the president gave climate change in his inaugural address, it doesn’t look as though he needs much pushing.

The Sierra Club campaign demands that the Obama administration enact regulations and policies that limit fossil fuel production by ending mountaintop removal coal mining, closing public lands to further oil, natural gas, and coal production, placing new limits on the use of fracking to produce oil and natural gas, stopping the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline that would transport 1 million barrels of petroleum per day from Canada’s oilsands, halting further exports of coal and natural gas, and increasing federal financing for energy efficiency and renewable energy initiatives.

University of San Diego historian Naomi Oreskes likens climate change to the World War II threat of a Nazi atomic bomb and exhorts President Obama to “move independently of Congress” to mobilize scientists in U.S. national laboratories in a Manhattan Project-like push. Among other things, the funding for “renewable energy research and development needs to be radically increased,” Oreskes says. In addition, given the inconstancy of wind and solar power, more research needs to be aimed at creating new energy storage technologies. Also, social scientists can help by figuring out how to seduce Americans into conserving energy. And in case all else fails, scientists should study how to engineer technologies that could cool the climate.

On February 12, President Obama will deliver his next State of Union address to Congress. It is likely that the president will unveil his administration’s climate change policies and plans then. What can we expect to hear?

Perhaps a carbon tax grand bargain is in the works. In his inaugural address, President Obama declared that policymakers and the public must jettison “outworn programs” and instead “harness new ideas” such as “revamp[ing] our tax code.” One such new idea is to impose a per ton of carbon dioxide tax on fossil fuels to encourage Americans to conserve energy and switch to higher cost renewable energy sources like wind and solar. Some Republicans in Congress might be persuaded to go along with such a tax if the revenues were used to cut the payroll tax or the corporate income tax.

What about the Keystone XL pipeline? According to climatologist James Hansen, if the pipeline is built and Canada's oilsands are exploited it will be “game over for the climate.” But because the pipeline crosses an international border, President Obama has broad power to reject the project if he determines that it is not in the “national interest.” Last year, in order to mollify the green lobby before the election, Obama put off deciding about the pipeline despite several reviews that found its construction and operation would pose minimal risks to the environment. The State Department will issue another review this quarter. Now that alienating green voters is no longer a risk to his re-election, the president could decide to approve the pipeline, but I suspect that he will instead go with his left-leaning policy instincts and reject it.

In addition, the president will most likely have the Environmental Protection Agency impose new regulations limiting carbon dioxide emissions from both new and existing electric power generation plants. The Department of Energy will promulgate new regulations setting limits on energy use in a wide variety of appliances and other electrical equipment.

In his first State of the Union address to Congress in 2009, President Obama vowed, “We will invest fifteen billion dollars a year to develop technologies like wind power and solar power; advanced biofuels, clean coal, and more fuel-efficient cars and trucks built right here in America.” Last year, in his State of the Union address, President Obama urged that the country “double-down on a clean energy industry that never has been more promising.”

Given that the president declared in his inaugural speech that we need to claim the promise of clean energy technologies, we can expect that he will urge even more doubling down on “investments” in renewable and energy conservation technologies. What might doubling down amount to? Some $90 billion of federal stimulus spending was devoted to renewable energy R&D and energy conservation projects. In addition, in 2010 the federal government spent about $16 billion on renewable energy subsidies. As the president noted, the path toward sustainable energy sources has been “sometimes difficult.” Some difficulties included the bankruptcies of federally subsidized firms like Solyndra, Abound Solar, Ener1, and A123 Systems. Nevertheless, the president’s faith that federal energy bureaucrats are good at “picking winners” among energy “investments” seems undimmed. And never mind that creating green jobs by subsidizing renewables turns out to be mostly delusional.

Finally, President Obama committed after the United Nations Climate Change conference in Copenhagen in 2009 that the United States will cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent below their 2005 peak by 2020. In fact, thanks to the recession and the replacement of coal power generation with the flood of cheap natural gas released by fracking, U.S. carbon dioxide emissions are already about 9 percent lower than they were in 2005. Apparently heartened by President Obama’s determination to take on climate change, United Nations General-Secretary Ban Ki-Moon is vowing to press world leaders to adopt a “strong, complete and binding" accord limiting global emissions of greenhouse gases by 2015.

Whatever climate problems greenhouse gas emissions will cause, the president certainly recognizes that the challenge cannot be solved by the United States alone. However, having been burned politically by the collapse of the Copenhagen Climate Change conference in 2009 and the failure of cap-and-trade legislation in Congress in 2010, President Obama has been wary of making any legally binding commitments on climate change in international negotiations. I predict that when the 19th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change convenes in Warsaw this coming November, the Obama administration will be fully committed to hammering out a binding international treaty to limit global greenhouse gas emissions. Given the failure of the Kyoto Protocol’s cap-and-trade scheme, the Obama administration may push for getting the biggest emitters, e.g., China, Japan, Russia, Brazil, and the European Union to agree to a set of harmonized carbon taxes.

Five days after the State of the Union address, environmental activists will gather on February 17th in Washington, D.C. for the Forward on Climate Rally. Organized by the Sierra Club and 350.org, the environmental lobbying groups hope to make this demonstration the “largest climate rally in history.” Their goal is to “move President Obama to take immediate action on climate.” The most urgent target of the rally is to persuade the president to reject the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. If President Obama does ultimately reject the pipeline, it will be a strong signal that he is determined to make cutting greenhouse gas emissions a central part of his legacy—for better or worse.

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  • ||

    “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.”

    But the $120T in unfunded liabilities won't affect teh chilrenz at all.

  • Walter Labat||

    like George answered I am in shock that a student can get paid $5362 in 1 month on the internet. did you look at this page...

    http://www.snag4.com

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    The economic recovery is facing some serious headwinds.

  • tres||

    What economic recovery are you referring to?

  • MacKlingon||

    Just an excuse to raise taxes on existing industries and send it to our supporters.

  • DarrenM||

    Economic downturn - spend money and give it to our cronies.

    Climate change - spend money and give it to our cronies.

    [Insert generic emergency] - spend money and give it to our cronies.

  • IceTrey||

    What's so frustrating is that the solution to all the climate crap was invented 50 years ago, the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor.

  • JWW||

    bbbbut Nuclear.

    Yeah, I will not even entertain the ideas of environmentalists that will not build nuclear reactors to replace coal power generation. If you are not willing to do that you are not willing to fight climate change.

    Oh, and levying huge taxes on oil and gas will certainly jumpstart the economy. Look closely at the big crash in 2008 and at every dip and plunge in the economy since then. What preceded the crash and every economic hiccup? A spike in oil prices.

    If Obama spikes oil prices to fight global warming, he will push unemployment over 10%, easily.

  • buybuydandavis||

    "We will invest fifteen billion dollars a year to develop technologies like wind power and solar power; advanced biofuels, clean coal, and more fuel-efficient cars and trucks built right here in America."

    I also noticed that nuclear was nowhere to be found in the list of technological marvels that would save the world.

  • HellsBells||

    Last I heard, even Europe had abandoned solar saying it was too expensive and couldn't meet energy demands.

  • JeremyR||

    Besides the anti-nuclear hysteria that drives most of the media and politics, there are two main reasons we''ll likely never see that.

    Firstly, the political angle. The left doesn't actually care about the environment (except those genuine Gaia worshippers), they want to use "Climate Change" as a political tool to attack capitalism and consumerism.

    Secondly, the money angle. There's a lot more money to be made by this green stuff - subsidies to "green" companies owned by political cronies, carbon "trading" which is an out and out scam, again, run by political cronies.

    And conversely, there isn't a lot of money to be made by the thorium reactors. There's no incentive to switch to something that is cheaper than what we have now - coal, gas, etc. So a lot of existing companies won't invest in it.

  • DarrenM||

    What's so frustrating is that the solution to all the climate crap was invented 50 years ago, the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor.

    Pass a law to ban Sun spots.

  • Michael Ejercito||

    Actually, it was invented sixty years ago with the hydrogen bomb.

  • ||

    And in case all else fails, scientists should study how to engineer technologies that could cool the climate.

    Wouldn't cooling the climate involve increased energy generation, including whatever necessary for the implementation of the technologies themselves?

  • ||

    Why yes, yes it would.

  • René Maglite||

    FALSE.

  • René Maglite||

    (this is politics. laws of thermodynamics do not apply.)

  • HellsBells||

    Wasn't the theory that the earth would heat up, melt some of the polar ice caps which would cool the Gulfstream and send us into an ice age?

    So, problem solved!

  • Slammer||

    Solar powerewd Drones aren't cheap

  • Sevo||

    "The president appears determined to confront climate change, with or without the help of Congress."

    It's good to be king.

  • waaminn||

    Sometimes dude you jsut gotta roll with it.

    www.PrivoWeb.tk

  • Hopfiend||

    OK haven't we been ten years from catastrophe for like 30 years?

  • HellsBells||

    Ah, but now they are teaching it in the schools, so it must be finally upon us....in ten years or so...

  • GeneDoc||

    Maybe the oil refiners should simply Go Galt for the month of February... See how well the 350.org neanderthals like a long winter's hike to DC for their rally. The lack of numeracy amongst this crowd is so unsettling. There are only ~150 refineries in the US, and none in New York or New England. Shut down the 1.5 Mbpd capacity of New Jersey and Pennsylvania for a few weeks and see how these clowns cope in their green utopias. Time for the energy producers to fight back against this nonsense.

  • RightNut||

    We both know Obama and the Democrats would use such a strike to justify nationalizing the refinery business. Oil refineries are already extremely heavily regulated, they don't want to rattle their cage and be punished further.

  • BigT||

    I am sure safety issues could be found to justify shutting any refinery....for the chilluns.

  • Libertarius||

    Someone should remind the left that America is not the big dog of pollution anymore, time to stop living the past! The BRICs are dwarfing our carbon production, but stupid libtards think passing more laws in California is going to stop pollution lolz no wonder they're all poor and dependent on the government.

  • DarrenM||

    This is why we need a one-world government. Climate change (not to mention the upcoming alien invasion) needs a centralized, coordinated, and immediate response.

  • Combaticus||

    So I guess I missed the official transition from "anthropogenic global warming" to "climate change." Even Reason seems to have adopted it. And yet, isn't change what climate does?

    Oh, my brain meat.

  • RightNut||

    "Climate change" is obvious newspeak. With "global warming", enviros could only claim man was influencing climate when it was warmer than usual, so a colder than average winter could be used as evidence against the theory. Nearly any weather phenomenon can be attributed to "climate change"; To hot, climate change, to cold, climate change, bad hurricane, climate change, earthquake(not kidding), climate change. It essentially makes the theory unfalsifiable, because anything can be attributed to it.

  • BigT||

    Exactly like gods - or many religious beliefs.

  • TheZeitgeist||

    STOP CLIMATE CHANGE!

  • π-e||

    I know this is going to sound nuts but i really think if you want to solve the energy problem, but if were gonna be dumping money into anything it should be fusion and fission reactors. nuclear energy is the future, bottom line

  • DarrenM||

    But because the pipeline crosses an international border, President Obama has broad power to reject the project if he determines that it is not in the “national interest.”

    I'm sure China would be interested.

  • ygsrf||

    2013 Happy New Year

  • CHAUSSURES FEMME AIR MAX 90||

    Obama does ultimately reject the pipeline, it will be a strong signal that he is determined to make cutting greenhouse gas emissions a central part of his legacy—for better or worse.

  • MSimon||

    The oil sands will be exploited. The only question is where the product will be delivered. And whether Warren Buffet's railroads will profit from the delivery.

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