White House official cites ‘education problem’ on climate

President Obama’s top science adviser said there’s a need to “educate” GOP climate change skeptics on Capitol Hill as the White House seeks to advance its green energy agenda.

“It is an education problem. I think we have to educate them,” said John Holdren, who heads the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, in an interview broadcast Sunday.

Obama, in his State of the Union speech last week, called for deriving 80 percent of U.S. power from "clean" sources by 2035 and for funding increased R&D of green electricity and fuels by repealing billions of dollars in oil industry tax breaks.

But the effort comes as a substantial number of GOP lawmakers, such as House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Ralph Hall (R-Texas), are questioning climate science.

Holdren, asked about advancing Obama’s agenda in the face of skepticism, said the scientific evidence of dangerous human-induced climate change is powerful. “The science of climate change is really very clear in its essentials,” Holdren said on Platts Energy Week.

He said there is uncertainty about details, but noted that’s always the case in science. What’s plain, Holdren said, is that the climate is changing in damaging ways and that human activities — notably burning fossil fuels — are “overwhelmingly likely” to be the primary cause.

“Those points are clear in the science, and we need to talk with the members of Congress who aren’t yet convinced of that to try and convince them,” Holdren said.

Obama’s Jan. 25 speech didn’t mention climate change, greenhouse gases or global warming explicitly, instead referring briefly to protecting the planet, while repeatedly framing green energy as an economic driver.

The careful phrasing comes after emissions-capping legislation collapsed on Capitol Hill last year.

But Holdren, in the interview, was more willing to mention climate change when describing the broad rationale for Obama’s energy agenda.

“We need better energy technology both to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, to improve the environment, including reducing our contribution to climate change, and to create the jobs in clean energy, the new products, the new businesses that will stay in America, while meeting our growing energy needs,” Holdren said.

He later added: “The president realizes that we need all the new energy sources we can get. We need energy sources that reduce our contribution to production of greenhouse gases that are altering the climate, we need those new energy sources to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and we need them to stay competitive in a global market.”

The White House is calling for bipartisan work on a “clean energy standard” for utilities to expand generation of power from renewables, natural gas, nuclear energy and coal-fired power plants that trap emissions (a technology that’s not yet commercialized).

Obama’s speech also called for expanded programs to lower demand for petroleum-based auto fuels.

“With more research and incentives, we can break our dependence on oil with biofuels, and become the first country to have 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015,” Obama said.