With all eco-eyes focused on the action (or, more properly, inaction) on a climate bill, other critical components of a clean energy economy can be overlooked. That was the case on Monday as the dominant news story concerned speculation about whether Republican members of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works would show up for Tuesday’s climate bill markup session (they didn’t).

While that tragicomedy played out, a forum at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building adjacent to the White House went largely unnoticed. The “Clean Energy Economy Forum” was hosted by the Department of the Interior, which manages one-fifth of all land in the nation (and 1.7 billion acres on the outer continental shelf). Given the sheer immensity of these lands, DOI policies play an enormous role in greenhouse-gas emissions and in shaping what our nation’s energy future will look like. The forum was only the latest of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s efforts to make DOI policies conform to the realities of climate change and the parallel need to develop renewable sources of energy.

In his second month in office (March), Salazar issued an order making renewable energy development a top DOI priority.

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More recently, in mid-September, Salazar signed a secretarial order establishing a framework to coordinate climate change efforts throughout the vast DOI bureaucracy. Policy, data gathering, and public education will all be coordinated by the newly formed Climate Change Response Council.

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Moral of the Story

Not to put too fine a point on it, but … the DOI’s actions are a reminder that the legislative branch is only one of three on our governmental tree. The executive can flex its muscles in other ways if Congress isn’t up to the task. The EPA—another part of the executive branch—has already signaled its willingness to regulate CO2 under provisions of the Clean Air Act. Perhaps EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson will step up to the plate with a regulatory solution to climate change if a legislative one fails.

In the end, we do need a comprehensive climate change bill from Congress. But Republican obstructionism, combined with the Democratic failure to govern as a majority party on the most important issue of the day, may force President Obama to bravely go where no Congress has gone before—or appears to be going anytime soon, for that matter.

That would require bold action, measures carrying significant political risks. But isn’t that the platform on which Obama was elected in the first place?

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