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Obama pledges to work to address climate change during his second term.

Environmental groups are cheering the portion of President Obama's inaugural address promising second-term action on climate change. They say Obama probably will focus on regulatory actions to curb air emissions and will not try to push climate legislation.

In his Jan. 21 speech, Obama said, "We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. … The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition. We must lead it."

The Environmental Protection Agency last March proposed carbon emissions standards for new powerplants; it also plans to draft a rule for existing plants. Those actions "could reap tremendous carbon pollution reductions and [don't] need any sign-off from Congress," says Nathan Wilcox, Environment America federal global-warming program director.

In the Senate, John Kerry (D-Mass.) and other lawmakers failed to pass a comprehensive emissions cap-and-trade bill in 2010. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) has signaled interest in introducing a bill this session. But even environmental groups suggest that effort may be doomed. Wilcox says, "While, obviously, we are excited about the potential for Boxer and others to put more effort into this in the new Congress, it's still the case that the votes are not that promising, especially when talking about the prospects of broad climate-change legislation."

GOP lawmakers oppose tougher new EPA rules and could try to block them through the Congressional Review Act. Even if opponents halt a new rule, the Clean Air Act requires EPA to issue new emission standards because of EPA's 2009 finding that greenhouse-gas emissions endanger public health. Scott Segal, an energy lobbyist with Bracewell & Giuliani, said, "[Obama] missed the opportunity to remind listeners that climate change is an international phenomenon which will require international solutions."