Congress had its chance on climate change. Now, the president is ready to go it alone.
That’s the subtext lawmakers can expect Tuesday from President Barack Obama when he outlines his strategy to combat global warming at Georgetown University.
And given that Congress has had a hard time passing much of anything lately — even bipartisan mainstays such as the farm bill — it’s not a particularly surprising strategy. Republicans have been busy pushing for more oil drilling and approval of the Keystone XL pipeline and generally want fewer, rather than more, regulations on existing power plants.
But those plants are expected to be a major focus of the president’s remarks, given that they account for 40 percent of carbon emissions.
“I think his view reflects reality,” Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters Monday in unusually blunt remarks. “We’ve seen Congress attempt to deal with this issue and fail to, and the president’s made clear that he will act where he can — with Congress where possible — but where he can on this and a range of issues.”
While the White House would not talk specifics Monday, Obama is expected to announce that he is directing the Environmental Protection Agency to draft rules to reduce carbon emissions from power plants. He’s also expected to say that he will handle a host of other climate-related issues across the government using regulatory and other powers, regardless of whether Congress approves.
Carney did mention that the White House would be happy if Congress were willing to take on climate change, but no one expects much on that front before the midterm elections.
“If there is a sign that Congress has the will to take up matters related to reducing carbon pollution and — and doing other things to positively affect the development of clean energy ... or reducing the impacts of climate change on the American people, then we will obviously be more than happy to engage with Congress and we’ll do that,” Carney said. “But the president will — as he did in his first term — take the actions that he can, using his authority, to address this challenge.”
Carney noted the administration’s fuel efficiency standards in Obama’s first term as an example of something that did not require congressional action.
But there is already substantial pushback on any new climate efforts on Capitol Hill, and House Republicans have passed numerous measures in the past few years aimed at reducing regulations in the name of boosting American energy production.
Lawmakers in both parties have pushed “resolutions of disapproval” on previous EPA efforts to regulate greenhouse gases, and any new regulations would likely come under similar fire. However, Congress must act within two months of a rule’s promulgation to prevent it from going into effect. And even if both chambers passed such a resolution, the president could veto it.
Still, Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, pre-emptively slammed the idea of the president pushing new regulations as “crazy” last week, given the potential of increasing costs for consumers.
“The president’s plan is to make American energy more expensive,” Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said. “That hurts families. It destroys jobs. And it’s the last thing we need right now.”
Senate Republicans aren’t receptive either. “I guess he got tired of the ‘pivot to jobs’ and wants to pivot to raising people’s energy bills and the unemployment rate,” said Don Stewart, spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
The president’s push is likely to complicate confirmation of Obama’s pick to head the EPA, Gina McCarthy, now the assistant director overseeing the agency’s clear air regulations. “There is no reason ... for her not to be confirmed,” Carney said.
In a June 22 video message, Obama said his plan would not only reduce greenhouse gas pollution but also prepare the country for the effects of climate change and establish working relationships with other countries to address the issue on a global scale.
He emphasized the economic potential of creating a clean-energy economy — a clear nod to critics who contend that regulating carbon from utilities will drive up energy costs and hamper economic recovery efforts.
“This is a serious challenge, but it’s one uniquely suited to America’s strengths,” Obama said. “We’ll need scientists to design new fuels, and farmers to grow them. We’ll need engineers to devise new sources of energy, and business to make and sell them.”
One thing he didn’t mention? Congress.
Lauren Gardner and Geof Koss contributed to this report.