In a move that surprised many, President Barack Obama used his State of the Union address to offer a robust series of proposals intended to tackle climate change.
Global warming came up relatively early in the speech, and was emphasized by Obama to a degree not seen since 2009. The president declared that if Congress fails to do what's necessary, he will take matters into his own hands.
"If Congress won't act soon to protect future generations, I will," he said. "I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy."
"For the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change."
Obama recommended the creation of an "Energy Security Trust" that would divert government dollars away from oil and gas production and toward the development of alternative energies. He also sought to create a program similar to "Race to the Top" focused on improving energy efficiency.
Finally, and most importantly, he called on Congress to pass comprehensive legislation similar to the cap-and-trade bill proposed by Senator John McCain and former Senator Joe Lieberman in 2003.
Most of these suggestions, if not all of them, are dead on arrival in the current Congress, whose Republicans have shown little to no interest in acting on climate change. During the Republican response to the State of the Union, Senator Marco Rubio deflected the entire conversation by saying, "our government can't control the weather."
Issuing executive orders isn't the most efficient way to control greenhouse gas emissions, but the Supreme Court has already ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency has the power to regulate pollutants, including carbon dioxide. Under Obama's direction, the EPA could implement tighter regulations to help the United States reach its goal of a 17 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2020.
Back in 2009, the Democratic-led House of Representatives passed a substantive cap-and-trade bill only to see it go nowhere in what was then a filibuster-proof Senate. Instead, Obama spent his political capital on what ended up being protracted disputes over health care and Wall Street reforms.
On Tuesday, though, Obama emphatically stated that urgent action is needed.
"Yes, it's true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and floods — all are now more frequent and intense," said Obama.
"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. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science — and act before it's too late," he added.