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Obama could skirt Congress on climate

President has to okay Keystone XL

President Obama, whose inaugural address made climate change a second-term priority, could bypass Congress and implement much of his environmental agenda unilaterally through regulations and executive action.

Obama, for example, is set to impose curbs on coal-fired power plants of companies such as American Electric Power and faces pressure to limit methane discharged during hydraulic fracturing, environmentalists say. He could reject Keystone XL, a pipeline that would carry Canadian tar-sands crude to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries. Nebraska’s governor Tuesday approved a new route, clearing the way for Obama’s decision on the TransCanada project.

The president can accomplish with rules much of what was sought in the next few years under the failed 2009 cap-and-trade legislation, relying on authority in the four-decade-old Clean Air Act and a 2007 Supreme Court decision applying it to carbon- dioxide emissions.

“He doesn’t need new legislation in order to make significant progress,” David Doniger, climate policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said. “The primary pathway is to use the legal authority he clearly already has.”

Each of the actions sought by Obama’s environmental allies faces opposition from industry groups eager to develop new North American oil or gas resources, or to keep alive a struggling coal industry.

“He’s doing everything he can to circumvent Congress, which has steadfastly refused to do his bidding on climate change,” said Luke Popovich, a spokesman for the National Mining Association.

The mining group opposes Obama’s proposal to issue caps on greenhouse gases from power plants. Such a move would “virtually rule out new coal plants,” Popovich said.

New regulations would invariably face legal challenges or attempts by Congress to repeal them, he said.

Judging from his Jan. 21 speech, Obama won’t be deterred.

“We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations,” Obama said in his inaugural remarks. “That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God.”

“I don’t know if he can match the rhetoric, but he can do a whole lot,” said Melinda Pierce, deputy director for federal policy at the Sierra Club in Washington. “The president is stating emphatically that he is going to take the reins himself.”

While “it’s clear that bipartisan opposition to legislative action is still a reality,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday that Obama would build on moves he made in his first term to deal with climate change. He didn’t provide details.

Ultimately, solving the problem of global warming will require more than American action. While the U.S. has one of the world’s highest carbon-emission rates per capita, it’s not the largest or the fastest-growing source of the pollutants. India and China are driving demand for coal and will continue to do so in coming years, according to the International Energy Agency in Paris.

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