President Obama has the opportunity to press for strong climate action

It’s too early to know whether Hurricane Sandy will be the “Love Canal” of climate change, catalyzing a strong national response. But with Sandy’s costs still mounting, President Obama has an opportunity and an obligation to press the case for stronger climate action.

In his victory speech, the president called for an America “that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.”  We hope he keeps driving that message home — to be clear with the American people about the urgency of cutting carbon emissions and strengthening our critical infrastructure against the rising risks of climate change.

Even before Hurricane Sandy, scientists were seeing strong connections between climate change and the increase in extreme weather. The media, the public (recent polling), and some elected officials are making the connection, too.

Sandy is just the latest and most dramatic event in a year of record, heat, drought, and wildfires that demonstrated our vulnerability to climate change.

What climate and energy policies can we expect from a second Obama term?

On the regulatory front, we expect the Environmental Protection Agency to finalize its proposed greenhouse gas standards for new power plants and address the bigger issue of cutting emissions from existing power plants. In setting these standards, EPA should give states flexibility to use different approaches to meet them, including market-based mechanisms. That would allow integration of the federal approach with the trading systems nine Northeast states already have in place and California is launching later this month.

On the legislative front, the president and Congress have an opportunity to price carbon in a way that could help solve the nation’s other pressing challenges.

Many of the fiscal challenges confronting Washington — tax reform, entitlement reform, deficit reduction, avoiding deep defense and domestic cuts — could be eased by additional revenue. A carbon tax is one potential source – and if used, for instance, to offset payroll or other taxes, could be revenue-neutral.

Putting a price on carbon as part of a broader fiscal or tax reform package would spur the development and deployment of clean technologies and put us on the path toward the steep emission reductions needed to avoid the worst projected impacts of climate change.

No one is better placed than the president to help Americans understand both the risks of a warming climate and the opportunities of a clean-energy transition. With the election now behind him and Sandy’s lessons still fresh, now is the time.