Obama makes the case. What comes next?

I recently replied to a question on the National Journal blog on sizing up President Obama’s State of the Union speech

Here is my response: When Congress failed to enact the climate bill in 2010, many longtime climate action advocates responded by falling silent on climate change. “Too polarizing,” they said. “When we talk about climate change, the skeptics attack climate science, the press reports he-said-she-said, and all the public hears is a muddle. Let’s talk about green jobs and air pollution instead.”

That silence was a big mistake. It understated the urgency of the challenges we face. It undervalued the clean energy solutions we need to deploy throughout our economy. And it underestimated the ability of busy moms and dads to cut through the noise about the world we’re leaving our children.

Meanwhile, even as climate change was barely whispered about in Washington D.C., climate-driven impacts were loud and clear across America in the form of record-setting heat, extreme drought, floods, severe wildfires, and, of course, Hurricane Sandy.

President Obama has now broken the silence. First in his inaugural address and then in his State of the Union address, he referred to all the above in making the case for climate action. In the State of the Union, he urged Congress to move forward – “but if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will.”

What executive actions can the president now use while we wait for Congress to act? In a new C2ES policy guide, we offer some suggestions. Under existing authority, the administration can:

  • Increase the fuel economy and cut the carbon emissions of medium- and heavy-duty trucks and buses by setting standards through 2025. This will build on the administration’s prior efforts to double the fuel economy of cars and light trucks.
  • Set carbon emission standards for power plants, the sources of one third of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. The key here will be to give states the flexibility to use market-based measures to meet the standards.
  • Set new energy efficiency standards for household appliances and industrial equipment, so we don’t need to run those power plants as much in the first place.
  • Continue to open federal lands to renewable energy production and transmission.
  • Reduce emissions of methane, black carbon and hydrofluorocarbons – short-lived pollutants that have an outsized effect on climate change in the near term.
  • Shrink the federal carbon footprint by improving energy efficiency and expanding the use of clean energy in defense and other federal operations.
  • Help states, businesses and communities prepare for the increasingly frequent and intense extreme weather events we expect to see as a result of climate change.

Working together, President Obama and Congress can also:

  • Support R&D and demonstration of low-emitting energy technologies, including through the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E).
  • Extend the wind production tax credit for now, but establish criteria for phasing out all energy subsidies that are no longer needed.
  • Take steps to reduce emissions and promote clean energy in the reauthorizations of transportation, farm and other major federal programs.
  • Establish a comprehensive climate information service similar to the National Weather Service to help states and localities factor long-range forecasts into their resilience and disaster response strategies.

That’s a pretty good list. There’s a lot that can be done.

But most of all, let’s please remember – ignoring this problem won’t make it go away.