US president-elect Barack Obama’s dedication to addressing climate change will be tested on his first day in the White House, where a few strokes of the pen could radically change Bush administration policies. Obama takes office on Tuesday in the midst of an economic crisis, and he will have to build a consensus to effect broad change. But some major actions — and symbolic ones — are solely at his discretion.
“He should find Jimmy Carter’s solar panels, wherever Ronald Reagan threw them, and put them back up on the White House, because they probably still work,” said Danny Kennedy, president of San Francisco Bay Area solar installer Sungevity.
There are plenty of other public buildings to upgrade, said David Doniger, climate center policy director at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Obama could change, for instance, government procurement policies as soon as he is in office — from buying more alternative energy power to weatherizing federal buildings.
But the biggest focus by environmentalists is on allowing California and some 19 other states to begin regulating carbon pollution from cars to address global warming. California said that its proposed standards would reduce greenhouse gases considerably.
“Everything hinges on the approval for California. Once it’s approved for California, it takes place everywhere else,” Doniger said.
The US Environmental Protection Agency has turned down the request to regulate carbon by the most populous state. Obama, however, can direct the agency to reverse course.
That is one of four Day One issues lobbied for by the Sierra Club. The nature group also wants the government to begin regulating carbon emissions from power plants — the Supreme Court said the EPA could regulate greenhouse gases as pollutants, but the agency has not.
In addition, Obama should get the EPA to use the Clean Water Act to slow mountaintop-removal coal mining and set a target for US carbon dioxide reduction — 35 percent by 2020, the club said.
“None of them get in the way of any challenges he faces right now: None of them will slow down the creation of new jobs, none of them will exacerbate the federal deficit. They all require him to draw a sharper line between the Bush past and the Obama future,” Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope said.
He predicted Obama would do about half the wish list in the first two or three weeks.
Washington lawyer Peter Wyckoff, a partner specializing in environmental law at Pillsbury Winthrop, said Obama could take dramatic action by ordering the EPA to develop a national plan to regulate carbon emissions that contribute to global warming.
The Clean Air Act gives the EPA latitude to create a carbon trading system, like the one used in Europe. Supporters of the idea saw it as a way to nudge Congress.
“The Obama administration in their view should put this in place in proposed form so as to create a sword, if you will, over the head of Congress to create Congress’s own program,” Wyckoff said.