Obama vows to flex executive muscle

President Obama pledged Tuesday to use the power of his office to pursue policies that Congress won’t approve, offering a mixed bag of news to the nation’s energy producers.

Following up on his Inauguration Day promise to confront climate change in his second term, Obama said he would circumvent the legislative process, if necessary, to achieve his policy goals.

“[I]f Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will,” Obama said, prompting a mixture of cheers and hisses from a joint session of Congress assembled for his State of the Union address.

“I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy,” he said.

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However, Obama, to the surprise of some, did not elaborate on which regulations his administration would pursue. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is weighing whether to press new standards for emissions from existing power plants. But industry groups say regulations proposed in Obama’s first term for new plants are problematic enough.

“They’re calling for standards that would basically shut the door on building new plants,” National Mining Association spokeswoman Nancy Gravatt said. “They’re proposing a standard that there is not commercial technology now to meet.”

The Obama administration would have to go further than that in order to accomplish the goals of the so called “cap-and-trade” energy legislation he once championed, said Sam Batkins, director of regulatory policy for the American Action Forum, a conservative-leaning think tank that tracks federal rules.

“The president knows that Congress will never pass cap-and-trade in the next two years, so we can expect more efficiency standards and some regulations for existing large sources in the next four years,” Batkins said.

That Obama would push for increased regulations was hardly a surprise to the industry, considering that the goals outlined in his speech were the same ones he ran on in his re-election campaign.

“He warned everybody he was going to do that,” one coal industry lobbyist said.  “I guess you could say he’s a man of it word. It just hurts the coal industry. “

The oil and gas industry appeared to fare better in the speech, in which Obama indicated he would direct agencies to facilitate energy production in that sector.

“The natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence,” Obama said. “That’s why my administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits.”

The American Petroleum Institute (API) welcomed the remarks.

“President Obama recognized the oil and natural gas industry as a robust economic engine that is investing in American jobs, generating billions of dollars for the government each year, and making our country more energy secure,” API president Jack Gerard said in a written statement.

Still, some congressional Republicans remained wary of the Obama’s approach on energy.

“Let’s reform our energy regulations so that they’re reasonable and based on common sense,” said Sen. Marco (R-Fla) said during the official GOP response to the speech.

Other opponents of Obama’s regulatory policies also called for him to scale them back, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which issued a statement saying, “massive federal rule-making will not put Americans back to work or stop the slide of middle-class incomes.”

Earlier Tuesday, the Chamber criticized Obama’s decision to issue executive order on cybersecurity – another area where attempts to move legislation through Congress failed.

In a statement, the Chamber said it "opposes the expansion or creation of new regulatory regimes."

Obama defended his use of executive authority on that front as well.

“We cannot look back years from now and wonder why we did nothing in the face of real threats to our security and our economy,” he said.