The president heartened environmentalists with the strongest presidential statement on warming in history. All that's left to see is how he follows through.
President Obama followed up his Inaugural Address with more strong words for climate protection in his State of the Union, delivering the lengthiest soliloquy on climate change in presidential history.
Coming into the speech, environmentalists were looking for the president to acknowledge the threat of climate change and declare that he would take executive action to control carbon dioxide pollution in the face of the imminent threat of climate change. He delivered on all accounts.
He declared the real and substantial threat of climate change. "We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence," he said. "Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science - and act before it's too late." The cost of rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy for New York and New Jersey will top $60 billion.
Obama urged Congress "to pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago." In this passage, he seemed to be endorsing a cap-and-trade system, although few environmentalists have much passion for trying this strategy again.
And then Obama threw down the gauntlet.
Tempering his enthusiasm for climate-change solutions somewhat, Obama reaffirmed his "all of the above" strategy for energy development, neglecting the reality that some energy sources are dirtier than others. Much like during his campaign against Mitt Romney, Obama bent over backwards to demonstrate his support for developing new fossil-fuel resources. He said, "My administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits."
Nonetheless, Obama's speech will be looked back upon as the clearest call for climate-change action by any president in American history. The question remains whether he'll wait for Congress to fail to act or whether he'll take executive action starting now.