On climate, Obama's in a difficult spot

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President Barack Obama - PHOTO COURTESY STEVE JURVETSON
  • PHOTO COURTESY STEVE JURVETSON
  • President Barack Obama
President Barack Obama is in a tough spot. He has his agenda, his list of issues he wants to address and laws he wants passed, but he faces an uncooperative Congress.

His State of the Union address last night reflected that reality; he laid out a few areas where he said he plans to take executive action. For example, he said he plans to issue an order requiring all federal contractors to pay their employees at least $10.10 an hour. But he also said he wants Congress to pass legislation to set the federal minimum wage at that amount.

Climate change action has been a particular victim of Congressional intransigence. Early in Obama's first term, he tried to get Congress to pass a sweeping carbon emissions cap, but the effort failed. Since then, he's resorted to using executive and administrative actions.

"Climate change is a fact," Obama said last night, in a slight jab at skeptical Republican Congress members (and some Democrats, for that matter).

Obama said that last year, the US cut carbon pollution more than any other country, and that to continue those efforts, he'll continue using executive measures. He said he'll order federal agencies to set new fuel efficiency standards for trucks, which will lower emissions and reduce oil consumption. And his administration will work with states that have their own emissions caps, he said. 

He also called on Congress to end $4 billion in federal subsidies for the fossil fuel industry and to redirect the money to renewable energy projects. And he threw his support behind increased use of natural gas, particularly to ease the transition to renewable energy. But his natural gas push didn't sit well with national environmental groups who are wary of the rapid growth in fracking.


Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune issued this statement in response:
"Make no mistake — natural gas is a bridge to nowhere. If we are truly serious about fighting the climate crisis, we must look beyond an ‘all of the above’ energy policy and replace dirty fuels with clean energy. We can’t effectively act on climate and expand drilling and fracking for oil and gas at the same time."
Other environmental groups used the State of the Union to call on Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline proposal. Obama didn't mention the pipeline during his speech.

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