The Obama administration is doubling down on its commitment to aggressive climate action despite an incoming Republican Congress that will undoubtedly oppose it, White House senior adviser John Podesta said Wednesday, saying the President can use his executive powers to meet his carbon reduction goals.
The comments, reported by the Financial Times, were reportedly meant to assure other world leaders that the United States can still meet the ambitious climate goals set out under its historic agreement with China, even with a Congress led by a party that largely believes climate change does not exist. Under that agreement, the U.S. pledged to emit 26 to 28 percent less greenhouse gases in 2025 than it did in 2005. China, still a developing country, promised to get 20 percent of its energy from non-fossil-fuel sources by 2030, and to peak its overall carbon dioxide emissions by that same year.
“We’re building our game plan around authorities that exist in current law,” Podesta said, “not in the need to get a major, massive new climate reduction program put in place by the Congress.”
Using Presidential power to address climate change is far from a new theme in the Obama administration. Indeed, when Obama made his landmark climate speech in June of 2013 — months before Podesta was appointed his adviser — he specifically announced his intention to bypass a deadlocked Congress and direct the Environmental Protection Agency to issue strict limits on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
“I don’t have much patience for anyone who denies that this challenge is real. We don’t have time for a meeting of the flat earth society,” Obama said at the time. “Sticking your head in the sand might make you feel safer, but it’s not going to protect you from the coming storm.”
Podesta, in addition to the team that’s been working on these issues for years, has undoubtedly added fuel to that fire. When he left his post as the chair of the Center for American Progress in 2013 to advise the President, media widely speculated climate change would become a laser focus of the administration — that Podesta would be a “game changer” for policies to reduce carbon pollution and slow global warming.
They were right. Since Podesta joined the White House, the administration has taken even more leaps to address climate change, all with little to no help from Congress. The EPA in June officially proposed its rules requiring power plants to cut carbon emissions from 2005 levels by 30 percent by 2030, the most significant thing a President has ever done to address climate change. The EPA also proposed regulations limiting methane — a powerful greenhouse gas — from landfills, the third-largest source of methane emissions in the country, and energy efficiency standards for heating and cooling systems. The administration announced partnerships with tech companies to develop carbon-reducing technologies, pledged $68 million in funding toward advancing solar power and energy efficiency in rural areas, and implemented a series of executive actions to tackle methane leaks from natural gas pipelines.
Still, climate scientists note that other high-emitting countries must also pledge carbon reductions if catastrophic climate change is to be avoided. That’s why the agreement with China, the world’s biggest carbon emitter, is so important — not to mention other high-emitting countries that may be wary to take up aggressive emissions reduction policies. Those require changing the status quo — moving away from fossil-fuel based energy, shifting to renewable energy sources, and improving energy efficiency across the board. If the U.S. can live up to its aggressive promises to do all of that, then it’s more likely that other countries will step up, too.