By Ben Geman - 11/14/12 08:05 PM EST
Obama underscored the fact that a carbon tax is likely a non-starter.
“That I am pretty certain of,” he said when asked if there's a lack of consensus on taxing emissions from fossil fuels.
A Treasury Department official on Tuesday did not rule out White House backing for a carbon tax as part of fiscal policy talks, but noted the administration isn’t going to propose one and that the initiative would have to come from Republicans.
Obama said there’s firm evidence of dangerous climate change and noted that while specific weather events can’t be attributed to it, there has been an “extraordinarily large number of severe weather events” in the U.S. and around the world.
He vowed new outreach to fashion a second-term agenda.
“What I am going to be doing over the next several weeks, the next several months, is ... having a wide-ranging conversation with scientists, engineers and elected officials to find out what more can we do to making short-term progress in reducing carbon and then working through an education process that I think is necessary, a discussion, a conversation across the country about what realistically can we do long-term to make sure that this is not something we are passing on to future generations that is going to be very expensive and very painful to deal with,” Obama said.
But he also warned that he’s unwilling to take steps that could hinder the economy.
“There is no doubt that for us to take on climate change in a serious way would involve making some tough political choices, and understandably, I think, the American people right now have been so focused and will continue to be focused on our economy and jobs and growth, that if the message is somehow we are going to ignore jobs and growth simply to address climate change, I don’t think anybody is going to go for that. I won’t go for that,” Obama said.
“If on the other hand we can shape an agenda that says we can create jobs, enhance growth and make a serious dent in climate change and be an international leader, I think that is something that the American people would support,” he added.
A sweeping, White House-backed emissions-capping bill collapsed on Capitol Hill in 2010, and prospects for a new climate bill remain remote.
But environmentalists are hopeful that Obama will fashion a muscular agenda through existing administrative powers, such as expanding on rules that the Environmental Protection Agency has begun rolling out.
EPA has already floated draft carbon standards for new power plants, and a second-term agenda could include standards for existing plants, and regulations that address other large emitters.
“I am a firm believer that climate change is real, that it is impacted by human behavior, and carbon emissions, and as a consequence, I think we’ve got an obligation to future generations to do something about it,” Obama said.