A prestigious advisory group to the President outlines six ‘key components’ to a second-term climate agenda … without running into inevitable gamut of congressional opposition.


It’s not an acronym that slips regularly off the tongues of policy wonks even within the acronym-crazy environment encircled by Washington D.C.’s famous, or infamous, I-495 Beltway.

But that may be part of its clout, and within federal science circles, PCAST — the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology — is no stranger.

In a March nine-page open letter to President Obama, the 19-member group outlined “six key components for consideration that we deem central” to the President’s second-term climate and energy policies. ¬†One approach deals with adaptation to better manage damaging impacts, the other five with mitigation approaches.

Science magazine, in an article by reporter Eli Kintisch, seemed to capture the essence well with its headline reading “A More Modest Climate Agenda for Obama’s Second Term?” Kintisch, in his reporting, seemed to answer “Yes” to that question mark, drawing a contrast with the more ambitious goals the President earlier had voiced. Political reality, it seems, has set in.

The PCAST report opens with six “key components” perhaps more suited to the bureaucracy the President heads than to anything approaching a battle cry rallying support (which is not to say that the proposals themselves are unimportant):

(1) Focus on national preparedness for climate change;
(2) continue efforts to decarbonize the economy, with emphasis on the electricity sector;
(3) level the playing field for clean-energy and energy-efficiency technologies by removing regulatory obstacles, addressing market failures, adjusting tax policies, and providing time-limited subsidies for clean energy when appropriate;
(4) sustain research on next-generation clean-energy technologies and remove obstacles for their eventual deployment;
(5) take additional steps to establish U.S. leadership on climate change internationally; and
(6) conduct an initial Quadrennial Energy Review (QER).

Well-regarded as a journalist covering climate science policy issues, Kintisch reported that “some climate scientists say that the proposals, while laudable, fall short of what’s needed,” in part, he wrote, in recognition of inevitable opposition from Congress, most likely including some Democrats. He quoted the University of Chicago’s Raymond Pierrehumbert as saying PCAST “should have emphasized the importance of implementing a price on carbon.” And Kintisch quoted Ken Caldeira, of the Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford University, as having no problem with recognizing likely congressional hurdles, but as recognizing the “need to be realistic about the scale of energy our nation must undertake if we are to make a substantial dent in climate risk.”

The PCAST report concludes with the group offering to help the Obama administration “identify and develop the full range of constructive options for tackling the immensely important challenges that climate change poses.”

Those too, of course, would have to avoid or overcome the same level of opposition on Capitol Hill that these initial six “key components” are designed to avoid.

Topics: Policy & Politics