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"Instead of taking the fight to big polluters, Obama has put global warming on the back burner" [View All]

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t0dd Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Jul-23-10 07:51 PM
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"Instead of taking the fight to big polluters, Obama has put global warming on the back burner"
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Climate Bill, R.I.P.

…the disaster in the Gulf should have been a critical turning point for global warming. Handled correctly, the BP spill should have been to climate legislation what September 11th was to the Patriot Act, or the financial collapse was to the bank bailout. Disasters drive sweeping legislation, and precedent was on the side of a great leap forward in environmental progress. In 1969, an oil spill in Santa Barbara, California – of only 100,000 barrels, less than the two-day output of the BP gusher – prompted Richard Nixon to create the EPA and sign the Clean Air Act.

But the Obama administration let the opportunity slip away….


A comprehensive energy and climate bill – the centerpiece of President Obama's environmental agenda – is officially dead. Take it from the president's own climate czar, Carol Browner. "What is abundantly clear," she told Rolling Stone in an exclusive interview on July 8th, "is that an economy-wide program, which the president has talked about for years now, is not doable in the Senate."

But the failure to confront global warming – central not only to Obama's presidency but to the planet itself – is not the Senate's alone. Rather than press forward with a climate bill in the Senate last summer, after the House had passed landmark legislation to curb carbon pollution, the administration repeated many of the same mistakes it made in pushing for health care reform. It refused to lay out its own plan, allowing the Senate to bicker endlessly over the details. It pursued a "stealth strategy" of backroom negotiations, supporting huge new subsidies to win over big polluters. It allowed opponents to use scare phrases like "cap and tax" to hijack public debate. And most galling of all, it has failed to use the gravest environmental disaster in the nation's history to push through a climate bill – to argue that fossil-fuel polluters should pay for the damage they are doing to the atmosphere, just as BP will be forced to pay for the damage it has done to the Gulf.

Top environmental groups, including Al Gore's Alliance for Climate Protection, are openly clashing with the administration, demanding that Obama provide more hands-on leadership to secure a meaningful climate bill. "We really need the president to take the lead and tell us what bill he's going to support," says Fred Krupp, president of Environmental Defense Fund. "If he doesn't do that, then everything he's done so far will lead to nothing."

But Obama, so far, has shown no urgency on the issue, and little willingness to lead – despite a June poll showing that 76 percent of Americans believe the government should limit climate pollution. With hopes for an economy-wide approach to global warming dashed, Congress is now weighing a scaled-back proposal that would ratchet down carbon pollution from the nation's electric utilities. It has come to this: The best legislation we can hope for is the same climate policy that George W. Bush promoted during the 2000 campaign. Even worse, the "utilities first" approach could wind up stripping the EPA of its newfound authority to regulate carbon emissions from power plants.

...

From the start, Obama has led from behind on climate change. Shortly after he took office, the White House seemed inconvenienced when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made climate change a top priority, moving swiftly to push a cap on carbon pollution through the House. Rep. Henry Waxman, who played an instrumental role in the legislation, was frustrated by the White House's refusal to come up with specifics to guide the effort. "Browner tried to produce a detailed policy position," says Eric Pooley, author of the just-published The Climate War, a definitive account of the legislative fight. "But that effort was blocked." Obama's top political advisers, Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod, pointedly avoided the legislative battle, viewing it as politically unwinnable.

...

Once again, however, the administration applied the same backroom approach it took to health care reform. Instead of waging a public debate to pit the American people against the corporate polluters, Obama gave the polluters a seat at the negotiating table. In private, big energy firms were offered sweetheart deals to acquiesce to the climate bill, including expanded offshore drilling for oil giants like BP and taxpayer subsidies for coal and nuclear interests that outstripped those for clean energy. "Kerry-Lieberman read like an industry wish list," says a top Senate environmental staffer. "The bill invests heavily in coal and nuclear, but doesn't do a heck of a lot for efficiency and renewables."

...

But the Obama administration let the opportunity slip away. On June 15th, the president – a communicator whom even top Republican operatives rank above Reagan – sat at his desk to deliver his first address to the nation from the Oval Office. It was a terrible, teachable moment, one in which he could have connected the dots between the oil spewing into the Gulf and the planet-killing CO2 we spew every day into the atmosphere. But Obama never even mentioned the words "carbon" or "emissions" or "greenhouse" – not even the word "pollution." The president's sole mention of "climate" came in a glancing description of the "comprehensive energy and climate bill" that the House passed. In a moment that cried out for direction-setting from the nation's chief executive, Obama brought no concrete ideas to the table. Restating the need to break our addiction to fossil fuels, he stared at the camera and confessed that "we don't yet know precisely how we're going to get there." He didn't challenge Americans to examine their own energy habits. He didn't rally his fellow Democrats into a fight with the Republican Party of "Smokey" Joe Barton, the Texas Republican who later apologized to BP. Far from offering a clarion call for action, Obama said, meekly, that he would listen to give senators from both parties a "fair hearing in the months ahead." Then he asked us to pray.

Climate advocates were stunned. "That speech wasn't anything different than Bush gave in an energy address," says Pica. "There was nothing new about climate and energy – it didn't move the debate forward. If he was going to recycle the same old talking points, maybe he should have just let Robert Gibbs give a little talk about it to the press corps."

In the aftermath of Obama's speech, environmental advocates seemed to wake up to the idea that the president doesn't have the spine for this fight. Al Gore tried to sound the call to action that Obama failed to deliver: "Placing a limit on global-warming pollution and accelerating the deployment of clean energy technologies is the only truly effective long-term solution to this crisis," Gore said. "Now it is time for the Senate to act. In the midst of the greatest environmental disaster in our history, there is no excuse to do otherwise."

But the president never picked up on the calls for action. Fed up, nine high-profile environmental groups – including Gore's Alliance for Climate Protection, the Environmental Defense Fund and the Union of Concerned Scientists – wrote a scathing open letter to the White House, pleading with Obama not to fumble away this opportunity. "A rapidly growing number of our millions of active members are deeply frustrated at the inability of the Senate and your administration to act in the face of an overwhelming disaster in the Gulf, and the danger to our nation and world," the letter warned. "The Senate needs your help to end this paralysis. With the window of opportunity quickly closing, nothing less than your direct personal involvement, and that of senior administration officials, can secure America's clean-energy future."

http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/17390/183346?...
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