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Obama’s Big Move on Climate Change Last Week Went Virtually Unnoticed

While most of the news coverage this week has been dominated by useless and harmful discussions about SGT Bowe Bergdahl, the Obama Administration may have slipped the most drastic and aggressive policy yet dealing with climate change past his critics. Well, at least his critics in the media.

His congressional adversaries are already taking steps to block it and also challenge it in court. The President, citing Congressional inaction on what may perhaps be the most important global issue since nuclear weapons proliferation, has expanded the EPA’s regulatory power to require coal-fired power plants to reduce their emissions by around 30 percent from 2005 levels.

The initiative is far more complex than that, taking into account both already-in-place programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and how much a state depends on coal-fired power. An example from USA Today points out that “West Virginia must cut 19%, compared to its 2012 emissions, while must cut 28%, Kentucky 18% and Wyoming, 19%,” while New York has to drop its emissions by 44 percent because “it can get credit for steps it’s already taken to lower emissions.”

The main point of contention that you will hear from Republicans in the media – once they are done fawning over/lambasting Bowe Bergdahl – is that Obama is acting like “a dictator” and that this will kill American jobs. This is a rare instance where, in most cases, his critics will be more correct than not.

In bypassing Congress this way, not only has President Obama opened this policy up to being struck down as unconstitutional in the courts, he does not have anyone outside of his administration to “sell” it to the national public. With most mid-term campaigns switching into general election mode, this will be an issue where candidates on all sides – because they have no political capital invested in its outcome – can safely align against the White House in order to fire up their constituencies.

The Obama administration has been one of the most embattled in recent memory and they have been slow to learn their lessons about opening negotiations with Republicans on the Hill and in the media. Yet, with this one move, they seem to have at least upped the level of aggressiveness with which they open the conversation.

As we take an in-depth look this week at both this as past policies dealing with global warming and the “state” of climate change itself, this may actually be a moment for optimism. Perhaps, if all the dominos fall in the right way, this could push those in Congress – especially those who stake their campaigns this year on this issue – to take broader action.

While legislation to reduce carbon emissions is essential, it is only half of the problem. Reducing America (and thus the world’s) reliance on fossil fuels and rededicating some space for flora (which take in carbon dioxide) are also needed. Both of these initiatives will take federal money to make happen, and for that we’ll need Congress.

About the author

Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. Along with news and current events, he writes about parenting, art, and personal stories. His serial fiction story "The Prophet Hustle" is available at JukePop.com and a forthcoming independent ebook about the cam-modeling industry "Dirty Little Windows" will be available later this summer.

  • Thomas W. Yale

    More power to him. It’s good for the planet, so any partisan argument is ludicrously parochial.

  • Cynthia Cohen

    Thank you, Mr. President. Congress votes with its own interests in mind, not those of our planet and its people.