Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

Why Not Clean up the Act?

By Delphi CleavelandPublished February 18, 2015

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While our spacious skies are being clouded with smog, our amber waves of grain murdered by drought, and the shining seas are heated and rising, debates and discussions on climate change have eerily abated in the United States political sector. Even following the recent Keystone XL pipeline deliberation and the continuous drops in gas prices, climate change fails to take precedent among some facets of Congress. How do the President and EPA respond?
President Obama backed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has been making subtle progress in the battle against Climate Change, with little support from Congress. Having initially been met with stark opposition, when the president introduced his modifications to the Clean Air Act during his first semester, his goals

have nonetheless remained the same: cutting greenhouse gas emission, converting coal plants to cleaner forms of energy, and decreasing power plant emissions 30 percent by 2030. The President has recently been rumored to be ready to use executive power to implement his new rules into American Legislation, and given the current mood of Congress this may be his best bet. 

            Speaker of the House John Boehner, in efforts to maintain party unity, has strategically left climate matters off of the House agenda, thus protecting the Republican Party from the splintering this topic could cause. Across the Republican Party the issue of Climate Change is widely contended, as exemplified in the recent Keystone XL pipeline debates. The GOP who remained in overwhelming support of the pipeline, with equal vigor, refute regulations on gas emissions, arguing that the conversion away from current energy methods would cost the government billions of American dollars. The Senate, under Majority Leader Mitch McConnell—who staunchly opposes any environmental regulation-also remains unresponsive on the issue. Thus, there remains a relative stalemate between the President and congress.

President Obama however, refuses to be dissuaded. He boldly announced climate change as a major topic of concern for the United States, at the 2014 UN Climate Summit, the President sidestepped Congress, and encouraged countries across the world to put the issue of global climate change on their agenda. The President also announced a new executive order as part of his greater plan to combat the threat of climate change by saying "We will do our part and we will help developing nations do theirs," emphasizing both the magnitude of concern as well as the potential for global unity in combating the problem. This tactical move made by the President -articulating climate change of vast importance, contrary to the desires of Congress to leave climate change off of the domestic agenda- ensured long-term climate consciousness from the United States, now internationally held accountable. This fact was reiterated days later by the White House Press Secretary telling reporters, "The President will announce a suite of planned tools that will harness the unique scientific and technological capabilities of the United States to help vulnerable populations around the world strengthen their climate resilience."

At home, the Republican Party may be facing a bigger hurdle than they had originally bargained for. While Speaker Boehner continues to avoid the topic of climate change in the House, miles outside the capital, constituencies are murmuring. While the issue remains ignored in Congress, it may be gaining momentum in other parts of the country. Constituents, whose livelihoods' are rooted in the weather patterns, are increasingly concerned. Recent polls showed the Hispanic population to be increasingly concerned about climate matters, important since this is a quickly growing voting demographic politicians need to consider. In addition, the concern of this demographic contradicts longstanding view that climate change is of sole concern to affluent liberal voting constituencies.

            As former Republican governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger calls climate change, "the issue of our time," EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy adds, and "the scary thing, is doing nothing." While Republicans and Congress remain illusive and unresponsive to progress on the issue, small steps can still be taken in the interim time until not-yet-invented technological solutions have been discovered, such as Negative emissions technology—like simply planting more trees-is one example among many. 


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