Report Shows Obama Can Take on Climate Change Without Congress

Frustrated by the US Senate’s failure to pass climate change and clean energy legislation this year? You should be. But it isn’t time to give up on strong federal action to reduce climate just yet. As outlined in a report released this month by the foundation-funded Presidential Climate Action Project, there exists potential for the executive branch of the federal government to cooperate with state legislatures and other government bodies to put the United States on-track to dramatically reduce carbon emissions.

Established in 2007 at the University of Colorado Denver, the Presidential Climate Action Project (PCAP) provides suggestions as to how the US government can take on the challenge of climate change—with an emphasis on actions the executive branch can take even in the absence of new legislation. This focus is especially important in the wake of the Senate’s decision to postpone a climate bill indefinitely. Fortunately the release of PCAP’s 2010 report has come just in time to provide a road map for what the US might accomplish, mostly through use of existing laws and partnerships with state governments. The report (read the full thing here) outlines five major actions President Obama’s administration should take to combat climate change:

“Create a Road Map to the Clean Energy Economy.” The emphasis here is on how the Obama administration can partner with state, tribal, and local governments to reduce carbon emissions from transportation, buildings, power plants, and other sources. The fact is that state and local governments in many parts of the country are already implementing policies to reduce the causes of climate change—and with a little more encouragement from the federal government more states, cites, and counties might be prompted to take action. PCAP claims that if every state in the union implemented a 23-point plan to reduce energy consumption and fossil fuel dependence, they could create 2.5 million jobs while cutting US carbon emissions 27% below 1990 levels by the year 2020.

“Declare a War on Waste.” Increasing energy efficiency is one of the easiest ways to cut back on the causes of climate change, and the Presidential Climate Action Project has singled this out as one of the major areas where the Obama administration could still make great strides. PCAP recommends launching a national initiative to make the United States the world’s most energy efficient country by the year 2035 (currently the US ranks 22nd in energy efficiency). The 2010 report also outlines specific actions which the Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration, Council on Environmental Quality, and other federal agencies could take to achieve targets for increasing energy efficiency while helping US citizens reduce their own energy bills at home.

“Reinvent Transportation Policy.” The 2010 report recommends reversing federal incentives that currently provide more funds for road building than for public transit. Though the Obama administration will have to cooperate with Congress to secure funding for new transportation projects, PCAP urges President Obama to strongly back public transit policies and work with legislators to make progress in this key area.

“Stop Subsidizing Fossil Fuels.” PCAP starts out by praising President Obama’s actions taken so far reduce taxpayer subsidies going to the fossil fuel industries, and to secure an agreement with G-20 nations to reduce these subsidies by $300 billion each year. However the coal and oil industries, which have been heavily subsidized for decades despite being fully mature, are still receiving billions in handouts from the federal government. The 2010 report outlines areas where the executive branch of government has authority to eliminate subsidies, while also urging the Office of Management and Budget to inventory subsidies to fossil fuels and make the process more transparent to voters.

“Put Ecosystems and People Back to Work.” The federal government can mitigate some effects of climate change by committing to restore ecosystems that provide a buffer against tropical storms, floods, forest fires, and other natural disasters likely to become more intense as climate change progresses. Meanwhile, restoration work will also create thousands of jobs and stimulate the economies of many communities. The 2010 plan details how federal agencies and commissions could increase ecosystem resilience, especially in key areas like the Gulf of Mexico, western forests, the Appalachian Mountains, and regions where severe flooding is common.

Of course these five recommendations don’t eliminate the need for a climate bill, but they do provide a framework for federal action in an age of Congressional dysfunction. These are specific measures that businesses, environmental groups, and individuals with an interest in reducing the causes of climate change could rally around. So please share your thoughts. What do you think of the Presidential Climate Action Project’s formula for cooler planet?

Photo credit: Nick Engelfried

Nick Engelfried is a freelance writer on climate and energy issues, and works with campuses and communities in the Pacific Northwest to reduce the causes of climate change.