Administration, Rhetoric, and Climate Policy in the Obama Presidency

Document Type


Publication Date



Among the most well-known traits of the Obama presidency are his rhetorical skills and reliance on administrative action to push forward policy in the face of an unresponsive Congress. This is particularly notable for climate change, where Obama used the tools of the administrative presidency to make policy and rhetoric to build public support for these actions. To this end, the authors examine how President Obama rhetorically constructed and rationalized his use of the Environmental Protection Agency to implement federal climate change regulations via the federal Clean Power Plan. The authors use a rhetorical analysis to examine President Obama's speeches from 2009 through 2015 that explicitly or implicitly reference climate change, greenhouse gases, and the Clean Power Plan, but also related topics, such as energy policy and climate agreements. The authors find that Obama relied on polysemy and the locus of irreparable in his speeches to sale the urgent need for administrative action on climate change. Conclusions suggest that the use of rhetoric and administrative action from the White House are key to how federal climate policy has been constructed in the U.S.