01/17/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

A Climate Plan for the New Administration

President-elect Obama has said he plans to move forward with legislation to address global warming. But he needn't wait to get started. Laws already on the books provide authority for swift Presidential action on this most pressing environmental problem. We propose a dozen initiatives that President Obama can undertake right away. (The Op-Ed below summarizes a longer paper written by Mr. Ayres and others under the pen name 'Justinian,' which can be found on the web at

1. Aggressively Pursue International Agreements to Address Global Warming
An international agreement to cut emissions of greenhouse gases will stimulate a new industrial revolution in renewable energy technologies and energy efficiency technologies that will contribute to energy independence, provide hundreds of thousands of new jobs in the United States, improve our national security, and open new markets for American low-carbon technology.

2. Reorganize the Office of the President

To address global warming domestically, President Obama should reorganize his own office. First, he should elevate the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) to its intended role as the President's chief environmental advisor. He should appoint Council members who are widely respected experts on how to achieve the interrelated goals for global warming and energy independence.

Second, President Obama should, in the words of a panel of administrative law experts, "take decisive action to fix a regulatory system that, after a generation of attacks, has become dysfunctional." He should begin by abrogating Executive Order 12866, which empowers the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) in OMB to review proposed environmental regulations. OIRA and its predecessors are notorious for blocking the kind of regulations the President will need to address global warming.

3. Formally Find that Greenhouse Gases Endanger Public Health and Welfare

The new EPA Administrator should formally find that greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare under the Supreme Court's ruling in Massachusetts v. EPA to initiate regulation of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. Such a finding would have an enormous symbolic effect, ending eight years of denial and deception about the causes and consequences of climate change.

4. Increase the Fuel Efficiency of New Motor Vehicles

EPA should immediately grant California permission to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles. It should also examine whether new fuel efficiency standards proposed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are strict enough to comply with the requirements of the Clean Air Act. If the federal government decides to provide a capital infusion for the Big Three, it should be on condition that the industry commercialize advanced vehicles capable of fuel economy well above that required by current NHTSA fuel economy standards.

5. Increase Building and Appliance Efficiency

President Obama should order the Department of Energy (DOE) to strengthen national building and appliance efficiency standards as required by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA). DOE's consistently tardy standard-setting demonstrates that clear presidential direction is needed.

DOE should also be directed to issue a national model "green" building code, using California's new code as a template. After DOE issues the code, the President could authorize an DOE incentive program for states that adopt it by linking adoption to increased federal funding for state energy efficiency efforts.

6. Manage Energy Production to Reduce CO2 Emissions

CO2 emissions can be reduced almost immediately by adopting a better management system for current electric generating plants. President Obama should instruct the Secretary of Energy and the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency to develop an agenda of such measures and identify Presidential actions needed to implement them.

For example, today cost largely determines which electric generating plants are operated ("dispatched") at any given time. Global warming is not considered. In China generating plants are dispatched according to their emissions, even if the cost is greater. Surely if China can afford such a system, the U.S. can too.

7. Curtail Emissions from Coal-Fired Power Plants

Using the Clean Air Act, EPA should set a "new source performance standard" for new coal-fired power plants based on the greenhouse gas emissions profile of Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) plants. IGCC plants are capable of sequestering carbon when sequestration technology becomes available. Moreover, they produce 12 percent less CO2 than today's best conventional coal-burning units and 30 percent less carbon than the average coal-fired power plant.

8. Eliminate Subsidies to High Emission Energy Resources

During the last fifty years the federal government has spent $644 billion on energy incentives, of which more than eighty percent went to fossil fuels. Reducing these subsidies could provide badly needed funds for tax reduction measures or for the President's new energy independence initiatives and reduce incentives for investment in outmoded fossil power plants.

Because of the political power of energy interests, the President should create an Energy Subsidies Commission, made up of individuals who are not in the energy industry, to examine the priorities represented in current energy subsidies and make recommendations for eliminating those that are counter-productive to the president's global warming and energy independence policies.

9. Manage the Public Lands to Sequester Carbon and Provide Habitat for At-Risk Species

The loss of forested land around the world contributes as much to the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere as does the world's industry. As the largest intact ecosystems in the country, forests provide habitat for animals and plants displaced by global warming. President Obama should use his powers of appointment and budgeting to make sequestration of carbon dioxide and provision of habitat for species at risk from climate change, the highest priorities in the departments that manage the public lands.

10. Create Green Markets with Defense Department Procurement

DOD and OMB should be tasked with altering defense procurement policies to provide a new market for green technology. Under earlier presidents, including Presidents Truman and Eisenhower, the military was required to give priority to important civilian objectives, such as integration of the races. Experience demonstrated that integration strengthened the military and provided new leadership to civilian society.

11. Create a National Climate Corps

The President should create a "Climate Corps," patterned after the Peace Corps and Americorps. The Climate Corps would educate the public and engage citizens in the fight against climate change by (1) educating children about climate change and what they can do about it, (2) helping poor individuals and households increase energy efficiency and educating them about tax credits and other government benefits for energy efficiency investments, (3) planting forests domestically and internationally, (4) assisting farmers to conserve energy and water, (5) promoting recycling programs to reduce waste, and (6) supporting organic community gardens.

12. Presidential Leadership

President Obama should use the bully pulpit of the presidency to encourage citizens to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions associated with individual and household choices. According to a post-election poll by Zogby International, sixty percent of U.S. voters thought that addressing climate change should be a "high priority" of elected officials. It seems plausible to imagine that those same individuals would be receptive to a plea to make addressing climate change a high priority in their personal lives as well.