Editor's note: This updates with five suggestions the president can take to reduce the impacts of climate change.
When President Obama steps to the podium Tuesday evening to lay out his agenda for the country, onlooking environmental groups hope he outlines a plan for tackling climate change driven by human actions.
The State of the Union address offers the president a chance to explain how the country should work to "reduce the threat of climate change, cut carbon pollution," the groups said in a release Monday. Such a plan would "ensure greater protection of America’s air, water, wildlife and most spectacular places by investing in conservation agencies and initiatives that generate millions of jobs across America," they added.
The release was issued by American Rivers, Defenders of Wildlife, Earthjustice, Environment America, Environmental Defense Fund, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, League of Conservation Voters, National Parks Conservation Association, Natural Resources Defense Council, Oceana, Ocean Conservancy, Population Action International, Sierra Club, The Trust for Public Land and The Wilderness Society.
“President Obama should continue leading our country toward a better future by taking aggressive steps to curb carbon pollution that is driving climate change. Americans are counting on him,” said Tom Kiernan, NPCA's president. “His leadership is needed to ensure the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Park Service have the resources to serve the public, and protect our health and our most spectacular places. Deeper, arbitrary cuts to these agency budgets will harm our quality of life. American families want their air and water protected and their national parks to stay open.”
In the release the groups urged the president to build on the "historic vehicle standards and carbon pollution reductions from new sources he secured in his first term by moving forward on new carbon pollution limits for existing industrial sources such as power plants in his second term. Cutting carbon pollution at home and rejecting dirty fuels will establish America’s leadership in the world, while expanding clean energy jobs in the United States."
“Climate change is here now and is jeopardizing the health of our families, our communities and our planet. It is the greatest environmental challenge of our time and President Obama’s response will leave an historic legacy for America’s future generations,” said Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
At the Center for Biological Diversity, officials released a list of five suggestions they want the president to take up to address the impacts of climate change:
* Set a national carbon pollution cap: The president should direct the Environmental Protection Agency to set a national pollution cap for greenhouse gases. The Clean Air Act already requires the EPA to set a cap for widespread and damaging "criteria pollutants." The agency has done so for six pollutants, including carbon monoxide and lead. Between 1980 and 2010, emissions of these six pollutants fell by 63 percent while the gross domestic product grew by 128 percent. Meanwhile, carbon dioxide emissions, which were unregulated, went up by 21 percent, contributing to climate change and ocean acidification. The president should also order the EPA to immediately regulate greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants, the nation’s largest source of carbon pollution, and from airplanes, the fastest-growing transportation source of greenhouse gases.
* Ban fracking and end fossil fuel development on public lands: The president should direct the Department of the Interior to stop leasing out millions of acres of publicly owned lands for extreme and polluting forms of fossil fuel development. Fracking, a particularly dangerous extraction practice, poisons our air and water and releases large amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. As a first step, the president should direct the Interior department to prohibit fracking on federal lands. Ending all fossil fuel development on public lands will allow these precious areas to be used for wildlife habitat and recreation in a warming world.
* Don't approve the Keystone XL pipeline: The Keystone XL pipeline would transport up to 35 million gallons of oil a day from Canada's tar sands — one of the dirtiest and most carbon-intensive energy sources in the world — to the Gulf of Mexico. Dr. James Hansen, one of the world's leading climate scientists, has called the Keystone pipeline "game over" for the climate. The Keystone pipeline cannot go forward without State Department approval, and the president should stop the project permanently.
* Protect the Arctic from offshore drilling: The president should prohibit offshore fossil fuel development in the Arctic’s delicate ecosystem. As melting sea ice hits record lows, oil companies have rushed to exploit the Arctic’s fossil fuel spoils. We should not invest in a new carbon-intensive fossil fuel infrastructure at the top of the world, where cleaning up spilled oil would be impossible and where multiple accidents this year demonstrated that the oil industry cannot operate safely. An oil spill in Alaska’s Beaufort and Chukchi seas would devastate one of the most pristine ecosystems on the planet, killing polar bears, ice seals and other imperiled wildlife.
* Join the world in seeking a fair and ambitious climate treaty: It’s time for President Obama to fulfill his campaign promise to seek a successful global climate treaty. In 1992 the first President Bush signed, and the Senate ratified, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, in which America agreed to take action to avoid dangerous climate change. Yet the U.S. negotiating team refuses to agree to the cuts necessary to avert climate disruption. The president should direct his State Department negotiating team to commit our country to fair, ambitious and binding greenhouse gas reductions.
“If 2012 taught us anything, it’s that climate change is setting in and Americans are feeling the pain, whether it’s Superstorm Sandy, record hot temperatures, widespread drought or massive wildfires,” said Bill Snape, the Center’s senior counsel. “It’s imperative that the president take the reins and finally do what’s needed to begin addressing this crisis before it’s too late.”
The environmental organizations also called on President Obama to put the nation’s fiscal house in order. In doing so, they hoped he would "support budget deals that protect our health and environment, strengthen our economy and invest in the future. This includes investing in agencies and programs that are essential to protecting America’s air, water, oceans, wildlife, and national parks – all of which make up only slightly more than 1 percent of the entire federal budget but provide enormous benefits to every American family."
Instead of taking more from those popular initiatives, they suggested the president could push for ending billions of dollars in subsidies that go annually to oil and gas interests.
Examples of how the sequester or a similarly bad budget deal could impact these programs include:
* Closure of some national parks, wildlife refuges, and ending visitor programs on these and other public lands, severely impacting the nearly $650 billion annual economic contribution generated by outdoor recreation, much of which is supported by activities on these lands.
* Cuts to research and development programs at the Office of Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency will hinder the creation of new, world-leading American technologies in wind, solar and biofuels.
* Cutting EPA’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund will cripple a critical tool for addressing pollution from sewage systems and storm water runoff that threatens public health and our use and enjoyment of waterways. Cutting a program that has created between 1.4 and 2 million jobs since 1988 will only undermine needed investment in our public water infrastructure and cost thousands of jobs.