Democrats send wish list to Obama for executive action on climate change

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) on Thursday outlined a slate of climate change actions that President Obama could execute with his own authority.

The lawmakers conveyed a bleak outlook for climate legislation this Congress, noting considerable Republican opposition in the House. But they said Obama’s climate comments during his Monday inaugural address raised the prospects for administrative action to address the issue.

“Congress has not been interested in acting, especially in the House, in the last two years. So we’re calling on the president to develop a plan for the administration to take action without action without Congress. … That may well spur Congress to act,” Waxman, the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, told reporters Thursday.

Republican lawmakers, largely in the House, held several votes to block regulation of greenhouse gas emissions. Many Republicans have predicted major climate change bills will go nowhere this Congress.

ADVERTISEMENT
Noting that, Whitehouse, Waxman and Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) laid out a menu of options for executive action on climate change in a Thursday letter to Obama. Among them were moves federal agencies could take to curb greenhouse gas emissions and enlisting national laboratories to pump out clean-energy technology.

The letter referenced using “broad authorities to lower heat-trapping emissions,” an allusion to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ability to regulate emissions from coal-fired power plants.

EPA proposed the first-ever carbon emissions standards on new coal-fired power plants during Obama’s first term. Environmentalists are pressing the administration to create standards for existing plants.

Whitehouse also suggested the federal government could use its procurement powers to strike deals with cleaner, sustainable contractors. And Waxman said the Energy Department could do more with energy efficiency efforts.

“It’s not one or the other. It’s all these combinations of things, and even more,” said Waxman, who co-authored sweeping climate legislation that passed the House in 2009 but died in the Senate.

Waxman and Whitehouse also launched a bicameral climate change task force on Thursday.

Waxman said the task force will build on Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer's (D-Calif.) "climate change clearinghouse." He said it would also complement the work of the Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition, a Democratic House caucus.

The lawmakers said they were inviting Republicans and Democrats alike to join the initiative, which will develop ideas for tackling climate change over the long term.

But given recent prognoses by GOP lawmakers on climate legislation, significant Republican participation is unlikely. 

— This story was updated at 11:10 a.m.