WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday gave Congress an ultimatum on climate change: craft a plan to slash greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the dangers of a warming world, or the White House will go it alone.
“If Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will,” Obama said in his State of the Union address. “I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.”
Congress should consider putting a price on climate-warming carbon emissions, Obama said, briefly nodding to his failed, first-term plan to confront climate change. Republican opposition means the president’s best chance to confront the issue will mean flexing executive power.
He vowed to push for more and cheaper solar and wind energy, and pledged to cut red tape to encourage more drilling for domestic natural gas, which Obama said had driven down fuel prices in the United States.
“But I also want to work with this Congress to encourage the research and technology that helps natural gas burn even cleaner and protects our air and water,” the president said.
Framing the politically charged issue in terms of recent severe weather, Obama said the nation should use its abundance of fossil fuels to pivot towards a no-emissions energy future.
To help pay for it, Obama proposed using revenue from oil and gas drilled on federal land to wean the nation off those same carbon fuels and promote clean energy.
“I propose we use some of our oil and gas revenues to fund an Energy Security Trust that will drive new research and technology to shift our cars and trucks off oil for good,” the president said.
About 30 percent of U.S. oil and gas production and 40 percent of the nation’s coal is managed by the Interior Department. The department collected roughly $12 billion in revenue from federal land last year.
Interior, steward of federal lands, already has proposed collecting higher royalties on some oil and gas exploration while critics have said the agency does a poor job of collecting revenue due taxpayers.
Energy efficiency is also key, Obama said, urging that Americans cut in half the energy wasted in homes and business in the next 20 years. He said the federal government would support states that create jobs and cut power bills by constructing more efficient buildings.
Building on his Inauguration Day pledge to confront climate change despite the skepticism of Republican critics, Obama framed the issue in terms of recent severe weather and took aim at those who deny the link between human activity and global warming.
“We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science - and act before it’s too late,” he said.
Promoting renewable energy like wind and solar power could make the United States a more globally competitive economy, Obama said.
“Last year, wind energy added nearly half of all new power capacity in America,” he said. “As long as countries like China keep going all-in on clean energy, so must we.”
The president’s first term saw a doubling of energy from wind and solar power and a measure to increase fuel economy standards to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. This year is expected to see rules to curb emissions from power plants, which accounts for about 40 percent of carbon emissions.
But Obama’s first-term ambition to put a price on carbon fell flat and any similar initiative is likely to fail while Republicans control the U.S. House of Representatives.
One of the executive actions Obama could take would be to increase green fuels for the U.S. military, the world’s largest petroleum buyer.
The Pentagon already has helped finance renewable fuel suppliers, and this spur to the renewable energy market could grow in Obama’s second term.
The Interior Department could require companies that drill or mine on federal land capture more methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
Reporting by Deborah Zabarenko and Patrick Rucker; Editing by Marilyn W. Thompson and Jim Loney