Will Obama bypass Congress to limit emissions?
Washington, DC - The Obama administration will set a limit on the carbon emissions of the United States, whether or not the climate change bill the President proposed last week is passed by Congress and the Senate, I reported on BBC Newsnight yesterday.
Do not underestimate the importance of this.
If America imposes a limit on its carbon dioxide emissions it really is a "game-changer". It would send an absolutely unambiguous signal to the world that the Obama Administration is serious about climate issues, and means that an international agreement to tackle global warming might actually be possible.
I had spent the day watching the culmination of the Power Shift summit of young activists.
The climax was a rally outside the Capitol.
And then a separately organised march to the coal and gas fired station that generates heat and power for the congressional building itself.
Then I rushed across Washington to file my story.
It was the result of an exclusive interview with John Podesta, a key Obama administration insider. He is the man who oversaw President Obama's transition and is the President of the Center for American Progress.
He told me: "there is no question that a cap is coming."
Last week, President Obama proposed a climate bill which would establish cap-and-trade system for regulating carbon dioxide emissions. The President's Budget published last week said the cap would reduce America's carbon dioxide emissions by 14% below 2005 levels by 2020, and 83% below 2005 levels by 2050.
The problem for the administration is that it is not expected that the bill will pass both houses of Congress. The question has been whether that would derail its plans to limit emissions.
John Podesta says it will not. He told me that the Obama administration will use the existing powers of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set a limit on carbon dioxide emissions. And remember, this is the man who oversaw the planning of the new administration's policies.
"Failure is not an option", he said. "The President has tremendous authority under existing law to really move this country forward. Under the Clean Air Act in particular he can directly regulate power plant emissions, he can directly regulate tail pipe emissions from autos and so I think the Congress has to be aware that if they completely fail in their job, there's someone in the Oval Office who's going to get the job done for the American people."
Watch my report and what John Podesta had to say here:
The EPA Administrator, Lisa Jackson, has already said she was considering acting on the April 2007 Supreme Court decision that empowers the EPA to regulate CO2 as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act.
She confirmed that when I spoke to her on Friday, after she had addressed the opening rally of the Power Shift summit.
She told me: "[the] EPA is already, as you know, taking some moves to begin to wake up its regulatory regime and we're certainly there to backstop our President."
I asked whether that meant that America could have a cap on carbon even if Congress failed to pass the legislation. She said that she remained optimistic that the legislation would be made law: "but we're going to say that EPA is on the job and is constantly working and looking at the carbon emissions issue."
Using the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon dioxide would not be easy because so much of what we all do each day involves the emission of greenhouse gases.
Time Magazine described trying to regulate the six billion tons of CO2 America emits every year as "like trying to gather up the ocean".
However, the administration's threat to use the EPA is hugely significant. It signals that a cap is coming whether Congress likes it or not. The administration will be hoping it will encourage legislators to pass the market-based system President Obama proposed last week, which would be more straightforward to implement.
John Podesta believes that it is possible that the cap on emissions could be in place by the end of this year. He is in no doubt what an important change it will be.
"It's an economic revolution in our country", he told me yesterday. "It will be as important as the Industrial Revolution was in the nineteenth century. To begin that process of, not only using power and energy more efficiently, but also producing it through clean, renewable resources - once it starts, it won't be stopped... It's gonna happen."
Please leave your comments below telling me whether you support America imposing a limit on emissions.
This afternoon we're jumping on a train all the way to Texas, a 48 hour journey, and we're hoping for some well-earned rest.
I'll write more about how America is the "game-changer" on climate in my next blog