Supporters Hail Obama Vow to Drive Action on Global Deal; China Actions Questioned

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By Dean Scott

Jan. 21 — President Barack Obama got high marks from supporters a day after pledging the U.S. would show leadership in crafting a 2015 climate accord, but his vow to resist Republican attacks on his environmental policies likely failed to temper their efforts to roll back regulatory burdens.

The president's Jan. 20 State of the Union speech reaffirmed a pledge he first made in his 2009 inaugural address: that the U.S. would take the lead on global efforts to cut greenhouse gases. Obama also pointedly warned Republicans against attempts to block his climate and environmental policies, which he said would “endanger the health of our children by turning back the clock.”

Environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Fund noted Obama's speech repeatedly highlighted the need for climate action, an issue the president has returned to in nearly all of his State of the Union addresses.

“I am determined to make sure American leadership drives international action,” he said, pointing to recent pledges by China and the U.S. to take more ambitious action on emissions. Those efforts are widely seen as crucial to a global accord to be concluded in December that would include commitments from developed and developing nations alike.

Because of cooperation from the world's two largest emitters, “other nations are now stepping up, and offering hope that, this year, the world will finally reach an agreement to protect the one planet we've got,” the president said.

In a joint announcement in November, the U.S. vowed to cut its emissions between 26 percent and 28 percent by 2025 from 2005 levels; China pledged to “peak” its emissions by 2030, or earlier, if possible.

A Vow to Defend Environmental Agenda

The president in his address showed he will “combat dangerous climate change,” NRDC President Rhea Suh said in a statement, while “the GOP game plan is all about blocking action on climate—and is devoid of solutions.”

Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said voters who awarded Republicans control of Congress in the November elections “did not vote for dirty air, dirty water, or the abandonment of American ingenuity” to address climate change and protect the environment

Senate Republicans, as well as some coal-state Democrats, remain skeptical that the U.S. should be taking on more ambitious actions and question why China isn't doing more. China is now the world's largest emitter, and its pledge would essentially allow its emissions to increase for another 15 years.

“There are 7 billion humans on the planet Earth [but] there are 300 million in this country—don't blame it all on the United States of America,” Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) told reporters just after Obama's speech.

“We contribute—but by golly we burn less than one eighth” of the fossil fuels each year, Manchin said. The Democrat questioned how China could curb its greenhouse gas emissions when it is struggling to cut air pollutants such as sulfur oxides and nitrogen oxides, which have been significantly reduced in the U.S. in recent decades.

Leap to Carbon Capture?

“You think they're going to leapfrog to carbon capture [and] sequestration?” he said, when China has yet to make progress on traditional pollutants.

Obama in his speech also took aim at many Republicans and others who have questioned whether climate change is real or is caused by human activity.

“I've heard some folks try to dodge the evidence by saying they're not scientists; that we don't have enough information to act,” Obama said. “Well, I'm not a scientist, either,” Obama said, before adding that he knows “a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and NOAA, and at our major universities” whose warnings suggest forceful action is needed to address rising global temperatures.

Republicans Question Offer to Cooperate

Some Republicans also took issue with how Obama portrayed their efforts to roll back regulation, which many in the party see as overly burdensome and costly for industry.

The president in his speech vowed to resist any effort to “endanger the health of our children by turning back the clock” on efforts to expand clean energy development and address climate change.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said in some cases, Obama sounded as if he were chastising Congress and was pledging a “go-it-alone” strategy; at other times, the president appeared to be struggling to persuade Republicans that he would work with Congress.

Portman said Obama should have instead stressed the need to pursue energy efficiency improvements, a proposal the Ohio Republican has been pushing for years with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H).

“You know, it was kind of obvious,” Portman told reporters after the speech. “The first half of the speech he took shots at us—the second half he said, ‘let's all work together.’ It would have been nice had he talked about” energy efficiency and other areas of potential compromise, the senator said.

“Energy efficiency is just one example where Republicans and Democrats alike want to make progress, on jobs, on energy security, and on less emissions and less pollution,” Portman said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Dean Scott in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at

The Bloomberg Text of President Obama's 2015 State of the Union Address is available at