Waxman-Whitehouse-Markey Lead Charge for Climate Action

by Daniel J. Weiss

Suddenly, the capital is awash in climate change fever. President Obama launched in on January 21st during his inaugural address when he said: “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.” The Washington Post reported that after the inauguration

“Obama made a point of highlighting how much emphasis he gave the issue after Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) thanked him afterward for mentioning climate change.

“‘I didn’t just mention it, I talked about it,’ Obama parried, according to Waxman.”

Follow on the heels of President Obama’s commitment, long time climate hawks Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Reps. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Waxman today announced the formation of a “Bicameral Climate Change Task Force.”

“It will be dedicated to focusing Congressional and public attention on climate change and developing effective policy responses, and will be open to all other Members of Congress interested in collaborating on this issue.”

The three legislators sent a letter to the president today to urge that he develop a plan to accomplish three main goals through executive action.

These three objectives are included in the Center for American Progress’s recommendations for “Building on President Obama’s Clean Energy Successes,” most which can be accomplished by implementing existing laws rather than seeking legislation from Congress.

Opponents of attacking climate change were quick to criticize President Obama. Climate Wire (subscription required) reported that

“‘The president missed the opportunity to remind listeners that climate change is an international phenomenon which will require international solutions,’ Scott Segal, who represents energy companies on behalf of Bracewell & Giuliani, said in a statement.”

Undoubtedly many congressional defenders of big oil and coal companies will begin to mimic Segal’s sound bite that the United States should not reduce its pollution unless other nation’s do.

Former Obama administration regulatory head Cass Sunstein attacked this notion, noting that the United States would benefit by its pollution reductions regardless. He noted that there are three benefits of prompt U.S. action:

  • U.S. action “may be a necessary condition for such an accord, and it would certainly increase the likelihood that other nations will act as well.”
  • “Regulation [of carbon pollution] would accelerate current efforts to develop cleaner energy sources.”
  • There is already a “social cost of carbon” that is exacting a toll on our economy.

Sunstein concluded:

“Pragmatic steps by the planet’s most important nation are likely to help spur action by others — and to lead to technological advances that will ultimately be in the interest of the world as a whole.”

Long time leaders Waxman, Whitehouse, and Markey concluded in their letter to the president that

“History’s penalty on inaction will be severe. We will do everything in our power to help you and Congress meet the moral imperative of protection our nation from extreme climate change.”

With the leadership of President Obama and these three climate hawks, the fever to attack climate change should spread.

Daniel J. Weiss is a Senior Fellow and Director of Climate Strategy at the Center for American Progress.