President Obama devoted a significant portion of his second inaugural speech Monday to climate change, comments that quickly fueled environmentalists' calls for aggressive second-term actions from a White House that has not provided a specific agenda.
Obama cited extreme weather that has battered the nation over the last year and cast tackling climate change as an obligation to future generations.
“We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms,” Obama said.
He also cast green energy development as vital to the nation’s economic interest.
“The path toward sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries — we must claim its promise. That is how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure — our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks,” Obama said.
“That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared,” he said.
While major legislation to limit greenhouse gas emissions remains highly unlikely to advance in Congress, climate advocates are pressing for a number of executive actions in Obama’s second term.
They include setting carbon emissions standards for existing power plants, and rejecting the proposed Keystone XL oil sands pipeline, a project under administration review.
The White House has yet to unveil specifics of Obama’s second-term climate agenda.
Environmentalists cheered Obama’s comments – and quickly seized on them to call for specific measures.
“This is a call to action against the climate chaos that is sweeping our nation and threatening our future. Now it's time to act. Power plants are our single largest source of carbon pollution. We must cut that pollution. We must do it now, for the sake of our country, our children and the future we share,” said Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
A day earlier, Vice President Biden delighted environmentalists with a surprise appearance at the Green Inaugural Ball at The Newseum Sunday night.
Biden drew cheers as he vowed action at the black-tie event and noted his hope to “finally face up to climate change.”
But despite the charm offensive, administration officials have not yet signaled whether they will put the full political force of the White House behind climate change in a manner akin to Obama’s strong push on gun control.
For environmentalists, Obama’s first-term policies were a mixed bag on climate change.
The administration substantially toughened auto mileage standards, poured tens of billions of dollars into green energy programs through stimulus spending and began moving ahead with first-time Environmental Protection Agency emissions rules.
But cap-and-trade legislation collapsed in the Senate in 2010 after narrowly passing the House in 2009, and some activists grumbled that the White House failed to put its political muscle behind the effort.
— Updated at 1:15 p.m.