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Guest views: Administration taking steps on climate change

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February 25, 2014

In keeping with his State of the Union promise to use his executive powers more in the face of a recalcitrant Congress, President Obama has added to his recent moves to curb emissions causing climate change.

He ordered new fuel-efficiency standards for heavy-duty trucks. Surprisingly, some shippers support tougher efficiency standards. FedEx and a coalition of other shippers see reducing fuel use as a boon, while other long haulers have shown less enthusiasm.

The new tailpipe limits on trucks’ emissions, to be rolled out by 2015—along with this administration’s earlier new rules requiring passenger cars and lighter trucks to consume fuel more efficiently and pending new regulations to limit carbon emissions from power plants—should allow the president to meet his target of cutting the 2005 level of carbon pollution in the United States 17 percent by 2020, experts say.

But President Obama’s bigger goal, reducing greenhouse-gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050, remains elusive. And executive orders can always be challenged in court. There’s a case before the Supreme Court on another one of Mr. Obama’s executive orders to curb emissions, for instance.

These steps, however, are the most cohesive that any administration has taken toward the looming threat of climate change, which would affect every aspect of the national economy, not to mention what rising sea levels and increasing temperatures could do to coastal regions.

The new emission standards are all part of a larger effort by the Obama administration to address climate change in ways that will set an example for other countries. Three weeks ago, White House officials announced the creation of seven regional “climate hubs” to help U.S. farmers deal with warming’s impacts like droughts and the pest infestations they can bring. And earlier this month, Obama traveled to parched Central California to announce a $1 billion “climate resiliency” fund for communities affected by climate change.

Internationally, Secretary of State John Kerry talks about combating climate change almost as often as he talks about finding peace in the Mideast. He has ordered U.S. diplomatic missions to make climate change a priority. Nowhere is that priority more necessary than in China and India, whose burgeoning economies rely heavily on expanding the use of coal-generated energy. Often, that coal comes from the United States, where tougher air-pollution standards have steadily eroded domestic use of coal.

There is an unhappy irony about this country getting more serious about reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, of which coal is a major producer, at the same time that U.S. coal is being sold abroad in ever-growing amounts. No one really wants to face this issue yet, but it will have to be addressed eventually.

As the United States and other nations begin reckoning with climate change and curbing the emissions that cause it, they will also have to persuade China, India and other emerging nations to do the same, no easy task. Just last week, Kerry urged Indonesia to sign a climate treaty, even as Obama was preparing his latest executive order.

These are tough issues. The good news is that, when it comes to global warming, this White House gets it and is working both domestically and internationally to reduce the impacts of climate change for future generations.

—The Miami Herald



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