By Valerie Volcovici
WASHINGTON, Jan 24 (Reuters) - Several Democratic lawmakers on Thursday urged President Barack Obama to use his broad powers to curb carbon emissions through federal agencies, saying Congress may be unable to agree on action to address climate change.
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and California Representative Henry Waxman, ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, launched an effort to focus congressional and public support on the president's efforts to reduce carbon pollution.
"Carbon pollution is wreaking havoc on our atmosphere and on our oceans, and it's time to bring all hands on deck as we seek to meet that challenge," Whitehouse said in a statement.
The lawmakers, who are both previous sponsors of bills aimed at capping and setting a price on carbon pollution, said executive action is needed because they cannot pass similar legislation in the deeply divided Senate and House.
"Progress in Congress may be so difficult or protracted that you should not hesitate to act," the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Obama on Thursday.
Also signing on was Ed Markey of Massachusetts, the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Natural Resources.
They hope their efforts can become bipartisan but were not sure if they will find Republican partners.
The move came on the same day Senator John Kerry spoke forcefully on the need to take action on climate change at a hearing on his nomination for Secretary of State.
In his opening statement to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry said U.S. diplomacy was "defined by leadership on life threatening issues like climate change"
He fought back on a question from Republican John Barrasso about whether climate regulations are costly, saying "opportunities of energy policy so vastly outweigh the downsides you are expressing concern about."
Kerry did not signal how he would decide on TransCanada Corp's Keystone XL oil pipeline, should he be confirmed.
He said he has checked in with officials on the Keystone review process, which goes through the State Department because the project would cross the Canadian border. Kerry added that he could not promise that the review would be completed by the end of March, as has recently been expected.
At the earlier event Waxman said he would be disappointed if the administration approved the 830,000-barrel-per-day pipeline, but he also showed signs of pragmatism about the project.
"Should I say to the president, 'If you don't agree with me on Keystone, I'm not going to work with you on solving the climate change issue?' That would be a little bit childish and counterproductive."
The U.S. relationship with Canada is another factor Obama is considering regarding the Keystone pipeline, Waxman added.
(Additional reporting By Timothy Gardner; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)