Podesta predicts more policy wins as task force rolls out recommendations

Source: Jean Chemnick, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, November 18, 2014

White House senior adviser John Podesta said today that he expects the administration to add to its climate change legacy in its final two years in office despite Republican control of Congress.

Podesta spoke on a call this afternoon to discuss the recommendations of the White House’s State, Local and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, which were released earlier today (Greenwire, Nov. 17).

He told reporters he was confident President Obama would defend priorities like U.S. EPA’s greenhouse gas rules for power plants and forthcoming efforts to control methane. Soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said he will use his new position to strip EPA of resources and regulatory authorities, but Podesta predicted those efforts would be unsuccessful.

“I don’t believe they can stop us from doing that, notwithstanding Sen. McConnell’s making this a top priority to leave the status quo, leave the air dirtier and leave the public health at risk,” Podesta said.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy told reporters at an event earlier in the day that she hoped public outcry would help the administration keep Republicans from making good on their threats to cut EPA’s budget.

“I think the American public will speak,” she said.

Podesta is winding down a year in which he has presided over numerous White House announcements and initiatives on climate change, from the release of the National Climate Assessment in May to the president’s pledge last week to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by between 26 and 28 percent compared with 2005 levels by 2025.

Today’s announcement is of a series of recommendations by mayors, governors and other local officials on how the administration can use its resources and authorities to help communities prepare for and respond to climate change.

Obama convened the 24-member task force last November as part of his Climate Action Plan. Seven of its members, including Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), presented the group’s findings to Vice President Joe Biden and other top administration officials this afternoon, and the administration simultaneously released a new “toolkit” to help communities plan for likely climate-change-related events, including more frequent storms and drought.

The task force’s recommendations centered on things the administration can do without Congress. For example, it asks the Army Corps of Engineers to conduct coastal climate vulnerability assessments of its infrastructure and make that information available to local communities. Federal agencies should help local governments prepare for long-term threats to their water supply and transportation infrastructure.

Some of these ideas have already been incorporated into administration policy, said acting Director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality Michael Boots. The administration is “really trying to embed this work into the DNA of the agencies across the administration,” he said.

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker (D) said the group did consider some ways Congress can help local communities shore up their resources against warming as well, but added, “We just have not seen that happen.”

Mayor James Brainard of Carmel, Ind., one of the task force’s Republican members, said on the call that climate change is of concern to many Republicans in local government who see their local economies grappling with