President Obama will outline his plan to address climate change in “the weeks ahead,” an effort that will focus on at least three broad areas in which the administration’s rule-making powers can have significant impact, the White House’s top adviser on energy and the environment said Wednesday.
Heather Zichal’s remarks came as Obama spoke on the subject at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate and Secretary of State John F. Kerry published a commentary on the environmental Web site grist.
“Peace with justice means refusing to condemn our children to a harsher, less hospitable planet,” said Obama, who traveled to Germany Tuesday after attending the G-8 summit in Northern Ireland. “The effort to slow climate change requires bold action. And on this, Germany and Europe have led.”
The president added that “our dangerous carbon emissions have come down. But we know we have to do more -- and we will do more.”
Obama is expected to release his plan to combat climate change no later than July, and some environmental advocates at a forum Wednesday sponsored by the New Republic magazine said they believe it could happen as soon as Tuesday.
Zichal, deputy assistant to the president for energy and climate change, was less specific, but she outlined three areas that are likely to be the focus of the administration’s attention: reducing carbon emissions from power plants, improving the energy efficiency of appliances and expanding the development of clean energy on public lands.
The Environmental Protection Agency “is working very hard on rules” covering “greenhouse-gas emissions from the coal sector,” Zichal said at the forum, which was held in the Newseum. She predicted “a lot of important work in this space” under the Clean Air Act.
The EPA is developing rules on carbon emissions for new power plants and then would tackle existing facilities.
“The bottom line is that [Obama] gets it,” Zichal said. “He believes the overwhelming body of scientific evidence” that human activity has fostered climate change.
Obama vowed in his State of the Union address to act on climate change if Congress refused to, but he faces a difficult path with a Republican-controlled House that does not want to move forward, a public more focused on the economy and his own commitment to develop North American energy supplies, including shale gas. That also may mean approving the Keystone XL pipeline that would bring crude from Canadian oil sands to the Gulf of Mexico, a project that has galvanized the opposition of a wide range of environmental groups.
In his commentary, Kerry said the United States “must be the indispensable stewards of our shared planet. What one country does impacts the livelihoods of people elsewhere, and what we all do to address climate change now will largely determine the kind of planet we leave for our children and generations to come.”
He and Zichal both hailed the agreement reached earlier this month between Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping to wind down production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons, chemicals used in refrigerators and air conditioners that are potent producers of greenhouse gases.
Zichal also said that U.S. leaders in Washington need to “catch up” with public opinion on climate change. “Most Americans have stopped debating [whether the planet is warming] and are busy trying to protect their communities” from its impact, she said.