Sierra Club urges Obama to wield ‘full executive authority’ against climate change

Brune said that while Obama “gets” climate change, a “considerable gap” still exists between words and deeds. He said Obama should use his State of the Union address in February to "talk very clearly about both the threats and the opportunities posed by climate change and clean energy."

The environmental group also argues there is new political backing for action on global warming in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, an unusually strong storm that slammed the Northeast in the final weeks of the presidential race.

That storm has sparked debates in Congress about coastal infrastructure and the long-term impact of rising sea levels.

Brune praised a cadre of liberal senators who want to push ahead on climate legislation, noting a “significant uptick in enthusiasm” in the upper chamber. Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden announces bipartisan infrastructure deal | DOJ backs Trump-era approval of Line 3 permit | Biden hits China on solar panels Biden says he won't sign bipartisan bill without reconciliation bill Business groups applaud bipartisan infrastructure deal MORE (I-Vt.) floated a climate bill last week, and Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerBottom line Trump administration halting imports of cotton, tomatoes from Uighur region of China Biden inaugural committee to refund former senator's donation due to foreign agent status MORE (D-Calif.) is creating a "climate change clearinghouse."

But Brune acknowledged passing a large climate bill during the new Congress would be difficult, given the strong GOP opposition in both chambers.

Many Capitol Hill Republicans are skeptical that global warming is occurring, while others attribute the trend to non-human factors.

That has led them to oppose the emissions rules and emphasis on costlier clean-energy technology.

With the House still under GOP control, Sierra Club is urging Obama to take matters into his owns hands.

Mary Anne Hitt, director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, said Obama could bypass Congress by issuing regulations to enhance clean-energy investment and curtail carbon emissions.

She said the administration should impose emissions rules on existing coal-fired power plants. Hitt also recommended establishing water pollution standards to end controversial mountaintop removal mining, a process in which mining firms access coal seams by blasting away Appalachian peaks and pushing debris into nearby valleys.

On clean energy, Obama could use the housing firms Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to make it easier for homeowners to make efficiency improvements, Hitt said, while the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission could be used to push solar power.

Michael Marx, director of the group's Beyond Oil campaign, urged the Obama administration to consider strengthening fuel-efficiency standards for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles. He said the Energy Department could offer more grants on battery technology research and accelerate grant disbursements for electric vehicle production.

Obama rolled out several emissions rules and pushed clean-energy programs during his first term. Most notable among them were more stringent fuel efficiency standards for motor vehicles, the first-ever rules for new coal-fired power plants and a $90 billion clean energy and mass transit portion to the federal stimulus.

GOP lawmakers contend those emissions rules are economically burdensome for industry. They also said the stimulus program amounted to what they called unwise intervention in energy markets, and accused Obama of using grants and loans to reward donors and allies.

Brune said he remained optimistic that Republicans would come around on climate change in the next few years, noting 81 percent of the nation’s wind installations reside in red districts.

“I do think it’s only a matter of time before more Republicans are willing to take more proactive steps ... in transitioning toward cleaner fuels,” he said.

— This story was updated at 3:00 p.m.