Should Climate Change be a 2012 Election Issue?
By Ben Geman (TheHill.com)
President Obama is vowing to make the case for action on global warming during the 2012 campaign.
"I suspect that over the next six months, this is going to be a debate that will become part of the campaign, and I will be very clear in voicing my belief that we're going to have to take further steps to deal with climate change in a serious way," Obama told
Rolling Stone magazine in a newly published interview .
Obama's comments follow a first term that saw global warming legislation collapse in Congress but several administrative steps to address climate proceed, such as tougher auto mileage rules and first-time greenhouse gas standards for new power plants.
"Part of the challenge over these past three years has been that people's No. 1 priority is finding a job and paying the mortgage and dealing with high gas prices. In that environment, it's been easy for the other side to pour millions of dollars into a campaign to debunk climate-change science," Obama said.
Mitt Romney, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, has called for stripping the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) power to regulate greenhouse gases and also opposes cap-and-trade proposals.
On Capitol Hill, where Republicans are trying to thwart EPA's rules, skepticism about climate science has become commonplace in the GOP, and cap-and-trade legislation is a nonstarter.
The vast majority of scientists say global warming is occurring and human activities are a key factor. A small minority call data on warming trends and the human contribution inconclusive or inaccurate.
Obama, in the interview, cited climate change in noting the GOP's broader rightward shift.
"Think about John McCain, who obviously I have profound differences with. Here's a guy who not only believed in climate change, but co-sponsored a cap-and-trade bill that got 43 votes in the Senate just a few years ago, somebody who thought banning torture was the right thing to do, somebody who co-sponsored immigration reform with Ted Kennedy. That's the most recent Republican candidate, and that gives you some sense of how profoundly that party has shifted," he said.
Internationally, plans for a binding global emissions treaty are proceeding far more slowly than advocates have hoped, although diplomats have made some progress in areas such as slowing deforestation and providing aid to help poor countries tackle climate change.
"Frankly, I'm deeply concerned that internationally, we have not made as much progress as we need to make. Within the constraints of this Congress, we've tried to do a whole range of things, administratively, that are making a difference -- doubling fuel-efficiency standards on cars is going to take a whole lot of carbon out of our atmosphere. We're going to continue to push on energy efficiency, and renewable energy standards, and the promotion of green energy. But there is no doubt that we have a lot more work to do," Obama said.
But while environmentalists will likely welcome Obama's comments on climate, in the same interview he downplayed the climate-change impact if the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline is built.
The administration has delayed, until well after the 2012 elections, a decision about whether to issue a cross-border permit for the project, which would bring Canadian oil sands to Gulf Coast refineries.
High-profile NASA climate scientist James Hansen has said that exploiting the massive oil sands, which are already being developed significantly, would mean "game over" for the climate.
"James Hansen is a scientist who has done an enormous amount not only to understand climate change, but also to help publicize the issue. I have the utmost respect for scientists," Obama said in the interview. "But it's important to understand that Canada is going to be moving forward with tar sands, regardless of what we do. That's their national policy, they're pursuing it."
He later added: "The reason that Keystone got so much attention is not because that particular pipeline is a make-or-break issue for climate change, but because those who have looked at the science of climate change are scared and concerned about a general lack of sufficient movement to deal with the problem."
Congressional Republicans are pushing legislation that would require approval of TransCanada Corp.'s project, efforts that Obama bashed in the interview.
"My goal has been to have an honest process, and I have adamantly objected to Congress trying to circumvent a process that was well-established not just under Democratic administrations, but also under Republican administrations," he said.
Capitol Hill Republicans have also alleged that regulation of greenhouse gases will hurt the economy and attacked federal spending on green energy programs.
But Obama told
Rolling Stone that the nation can take serious steps to battle climate change in a way that's "entirely compatible with strong economic growth and job creation," such as retrofitting buildings to slash energy use.
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