Democrats urge Obama to avoid idle Congress on climate change
WASHINGTON, Jan 24 (Reuters) - Several Democratic lawmakers on Thursday urged President Barack Obama to use his broad powers to curb carbon emissions through federal agencies and address climate change by avoiding inaction in Congress.
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and California Representative Henry Waxman, ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, launched an effort to focus congressional and public support on the president's efforts to reduce carbon pollution.
"Carbon pollution is wreaking havoc on our atmosphere and on our oceans, and it's time to bring all hands on deck as we seek to meet that challenge," Whitehouse said in a statement.
The lawmakers, who are both previous sponsors of bills aimed at capping and setting a price on carbon pollution, said executive action is needed because they cannot pass similar legislation in the deeply divided Senate and House.
"Progress in Congress may be so difficult or protracted that you should not hesitate to act," the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Obama on Thursday.
Also signing on was Ed Markey of Massachusetts, the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Natural Resources.
They hope their efforts can become bipartisan, but were not sure if they will find Republican partners.
Obama took the public and lawmakers by surprise when he devoted several lines in his inaugural address on Monday to Washington's "failure to respond to the threat of climate change."
He has not yet outlined policy specifics, but his spokesman Jay Carney said this week that the White House will build on previous measures it has launched to tackle carbon emissions from vehicles, power plants and industrial facilities.
The Democrats' letter urged Obama to lay out a clear strategy in the State of the Union address, scheduled for Feb. 12.
They said he should lay out "specific steps" for agencies to ensure that the United States reduces its greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 - a target it set at United Nations climate change negotiations.
The letter also called for the White House to accelerate federal investments in clean energy technology and to protect regions of the country that are vulnerable to the impacts of severe weather that many link with climate change.
In addition to the Environmental Protection Agency, which can draft rules to tackle emissions from the nation's current fleet of power plants, the Democrats said other agencies can generate major emissions cuts.
They pointed to the Department of Energy, which could set new, higher energy efficiency standards for appliances, as well as agencies such as the State Department which could tackle methane and shorter-lived climate pollutants such as black carbon, or soot, through global partnerships.
(Reporting By Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)