The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to announce pollution standards for new power plants in April, and soon thereafter should impose new standards on older plants. Fossil-fuel-powered electricity plants account for 40 percent of the nation's greenhouse gas emissions. While many plants have cleaned up their discharges, several haven't and are lobbying against stronger clean-air standards.
Obama already boosted mileage standards for cars and small trucks administratively in his first term. Now he should set his sights on aircraft and eight-wheel trucks.
The president also is due to make a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport tar sands from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries where oil would be extracted. Both environmentalists and fossil-fuel interests are looking to that decision to see how serious Obama is about fighting climate change.
The administration has been unclear about what it will do, but presidential scholars say if Obama is to get anything through Congress before he's dismissed as a lame duck, he's got about six months to do it.
The gun-control and immigration reforms he has asked for will no doubt spend much his political capital. Although Congress seems open to some legislation on those issues, Republican leaders beholden to the coal and oil industries that fund their political campaigns are unwilling to reduce the nation's carbon footprint.
U.S. Rep. Edward Whitfield (R., Ky.), who chairs the House's energy and power subcommittee, has made it clear that he will block limits on greenhouse gases and a carbon tax, saying such measures would drive up energy costs. But Whitfield ignores that the public will pay for its failure to attack air pollution with higher health-care costs and damages due to extreme weather caused by the Earth's rising temperature.
"We will respond to the threat of climate change knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children for future generations," Obama said in his inauguration speech. "Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms." If the president is going to meet the challenge, he must use all of his powers.