President Barack Obama hardly mentioned climate change during long stretches of his first term. As he rebuilds his administration and refines his second-term agenda, he should give this challenge the priority it deserves.
The biggest disappointment of Obama’s energy and environmental record was his failure to advance a bill that would have put a price on carbon dioxide emissions, which is the economically sensible way to cut them. Congress, too, bears blame for this, but the president allowed other priorities, such as health-care legislation and Wall Street reform, to gobble up his attention.
Consequently the administration focused on what it could do without Congress. Obama pushed through landmark fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks, an achievement that will reduce both oil use and the country’s carbon footprint.
The president also welcomed the revolution in domestic energy production that taps into vast deposits of natural gas, which burns cleaner than coal.
Taken together, these efforts have helped put the country on a path toward reduced emissions, though it’s not as ambitious or as efficient a policy program as pricing carbon could have been.
In the next four years, there is more Obama can do administratively. His administration must ensure that natural gas production doesn’t result in excess greenhouse-gas pollution. The Environmental Protection Agency can set carbon emissions standards on existing power plants and industrial sources.
But the best policies to reduce the country’s emissions would require congressional action. Unfortunately, the president seems unwilling to push for a carbon tax or some other carbon-pricing policy during any tax reform negotiations. Given that a carbon tax could raise money and efficiently address greenhouse emissions, it seems like a perfect fit.
The Washington Post (Jan. 21)