Top White House climate adviser vows Obama will act soon

President Obama's top climate adviser on Wednesday vowed that “meaningful” action on global warming was coming soon.

Heather Zichal, the deputy assistant to the president on energy and climate change, said she didn’t want to get “in front of the big man” and unveil specific plans during an event in Washington, D.C., hosted by The New Republic and American University.


She spoke broadly, however, of bolstering energy efficiency, expanding clean energy on public lands and using various “tools” -- including the Clean Air Act -- to address climate.

Zichal’s comments come as speculation grows that the administration is preparing sweeping climate change proposals. Bloomberg reported that Obama has told donors he will take action next month.

Capitol Hill has been left guessing what the White House is cooking up on climate, though Zichal's comments shed some light on the plan.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, told The Hill on Tuesday that he understands Obama will reveal his actions “soon.”

“What they’re going to announce, I don’t know,” said Waxman, who recently joined Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseUnder pressure, Democrats cut back spending Equilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by Southern Company — Nations plan to pump oil despite net zero promises On The Money — It all comes down to Bernie and Joe MORE (D-R.I.) to discuss climate issues with White House chief of staff Denis McDonoughDenis Richard McDonoughOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by Raytheon Technologies — House lawmakers eye military pay raise next year VA secretary pledges to house hundreds of homeless veterans in LA by end of year Expats plead with US to deliver COVID-19 vaccines MORE.

But any climate measures from the president will likely face opposition from Republican lawmakers who are wary of further regulations they say hamper businesses.

Many Republicans also dispute or deny the scientific consensus that human activity is contributing to global warming. Some disagree altogether that growing greenhouse gas concentrations are baking the planet, or that the world is getting warmer.

Obama in his State of the Union address though vowed to act on climate change if Congress does not, saying it would be a second-term priority.

Zichal said the president is focused on “depoliticizing” climate policy as he prepares to roll out a suite of executive actions to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

She said that “most Americans have stopped debating the reality of climate change,” suggesting that wildfires in the West, Hurricane Sandy and other extreme weather events linked to climate change have shifted views on the issue.

She also said she believed there was room to gain GOP support for climate issues. 

Zichal noted legislation from Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeCawthorn, Lee introduce bills banning interstate travel vaccine mandate Retreating economy creates new hurdle for Democrats in 2022 McConnell vows GOP won't help raise debt ceiling in December after Schumer 'tantrum' MORE (R-Utah) to help prevent wildfires and concerns from Texas lawmakers about water conservation.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee also skirted the climate debate in its Water Resources Development Act legislation. Lawmakers steered conversation toward the impact extreme weather events have on coastal infrastructure.

While such congressional activity does not address the reasons climate change is occurring, Zichal said it shows GOP lawmakers acknowledge there is a problem.

“The era of delay and denial is over,” she said.

Zichal said the administration’s first priority will be finalizing emissions rules for new coal-fired power plants.

The Environmental Protection Agency missed an April deadline to enact the standards. Green groups had threatened to sue the agency for its tardiness, but have decided to pull back after press reports have indicated Obama might be nearing a climate announcement.

Zichal reiterated the administration’s commitment to finishing those rules.

“In the near term we are very much focused on the power plants piece of the equation,” she said.

— This story was updated at 11:42 a.m.