President Obama on the Environment

Now that Lieberman-Warner has suffered a timely death, a President Obama will be free to actually call for some truly sweeping legislation on climate change that stands a chance of getting through a Senate which by all estimations, should be much friendlier to aggressive climate change legislation come January 2009. A hat trick (and a real long shot that requires Lieberman’s support of the Democratic agenda) gets a Senate that is not just run by Democrats, but filibuster proof, as well (can you say Senator Al Franken from Minnesota, anyone?).

Like all of his former Democratic nomination contenders, with John Edwards having been the first to throw down the gauntlet on greenhouse gas emission reductions, Obama has been calling for 80% greenhouse gas reductions by 2050 (with 100% of carbon credits auctioned), multi-billion dollar investments in clean energy and efficiency, and good-faith engagement with international climate negotiations. On the other hand, Obama has backed some ill-conceived ideas, including supporting ethanol, liquid coal and de facto support for nuclear power despite the major issue of what to do with the waste. He also came out against reforming the 1872 Mining Act which would have updated a law that currently allows mining companies a free ride, paying little to no royalties for mining public land. Is Obama’s relationship to the coal industry true belief, a financial one, or perhaps political calculation (say to help win southern states like Virginia which many consider now in play)?

But his positions have evolved since the start of the campaign, oh so long ago, back in early 2007 and he has since qualified his support for liquid coal, as well as clarified other key positions. Tom Konrad gives him a C grade on coal and a C on nuclear, but Bs everywhere else, better marks overall than McCain who rates Ds on coal and nuclear and an F on smart growth. Currently Obama:

  • Calls for cutting U.S. carbon dioxide emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. Would accomplish this through a cap-and-trade system that would auction off 100 percent of emissions permits, making polluters pay for the CO2 they emit.
  • Would channel revenue raised from auctioning emissions permits -- between $30 billion and $50 billion a year -- toward developing and deploying clean energy technology, creating "green jobs," and helping low-income Americans afford higher energy bills.
  • Calls for 25 percent of U.S. electricity to come from renewable sources by 2025, and for 30 percent of the federal government's electricity to come from renewables by 2020.
  • Proposes investing $150 billion over 10 years in R&D for renewables, biofuels, efficiency, "clean coal," and other clean tech.
  • Calls for improving energy efficiency in the U.S. 50 percent by 2030.
  • Calls for 36 billion gallons of biofuels to be used in the U.S. each year by 2022 and 60 billion gallons of biofuels to be used in the U.S. each year by 2030.
  • Calls for all new buildings in the U.S. to be carbon neutral by 2030.
  • Calls for reducing U.S. oil consumption by at least 35 percent, or 10 million barrels a day, by 2030.
  • Introduced the Health Care for Hybrids Act, which would have the federal government help cover health-care costs for retired U.S. autoworkers in exchange for domestic auto companies investing at least 50 percent of the savings into production of more fuel-efficient vehicles.
  • Supports raising fuel-economy standards for automobiles to 40 miles per gallon and light trucks to 32 mpg by 2020.
  • Supports a phaseout of incandescent light bulbs by 2014.
  • Cosponsor of the Coal-to-Liquid Fuel Promotion Act. After being badgered by MoveOn and other progressives over the issue, he "clarified" his position by saying he would support liquefied coal only if it emitted 20 percent less carbon over its lifecycle than conventional fuels.
  • Has been endorsed by Friends of the Earth Action, in part for his opposition to a summer "gas-tax holiday" that McCain and Clinton support. (FoE Action had previously endorsed John Edwards.) -- Grist
And Senator Obama had this to say about the defeat of Lieberman Warner:
"Like many of my Senate colleagues, I believe the legislation could have been made even better.  Had there been a substantive Senate debate about some of the concerns with this bill, I believe the outcome could have generated broad support.  It certainly would have received my support."
Let’s be real, though. We are never going to get the perfect climate change or energy legislation. There will always be give-aways to industry and components that environmentalists find hard to swallow, if not downright dangerous. But getting something significant done about climate change under a President Obama is in reach. And it is as much about leadership as it is about policy. And inspiration of a nation must go hand in hand with regulation.

As Dave Roberts wrote:

The real moonshot of Obama's campaign is the possibility that he will take the skills he learned in community organizing and the bottom-up strategy he used in his campaign and apply it to governance. The climate/energy issue is desperately in need of some old-fashioned bully pulpit leadership. Imagine if Obama could go to the district of a wavering legislator and hold a rally with thousands of volunteers, who then go on to knock on doors, talk to voters, and hold events. Imagine if Obama could shepherd a genuine, public-spirited citizens' movement to push for strong climate solutions. – The Huffington Post

Stephan Robert’s thinks this may also be a moonshot for us, complaining that Obama has not made climate change a central part of his platform and, like with so many things during a presidential campaign, has been big on ideas, short on details. Still, Obama is on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee under Barbara Boxer’s leadership (a true environmental hero despite her support for Lieberman-Warner) and is a cosponsor of the strongest climate bill in the Senate, the Boxer-Sanders Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act. As important, he is on the record with Grist regarding energy that:

…energy [has] to be one of the three most important issues that we're facing domestically, along with revamping our education system and fundamentally reforming our health-care system. And the opportunities for significant change exist partly because awareness of the threat of climate change has grown rapidly over the last several years…People recognize the magnitude of the [climate] problem and are ready to take it on. Not only is there environmental concern, but you're also seeing people who are recognizing that our dependence on fossil fuels from the Middle East is distorting our foreign policies, and that we can't sustain economically continuing dependence on a resource that is going to get more and more expensive over time. As all those things converge, we have to move boldly on energy legislation, and that's what I'll do as the next president. – Grist
Linking energy independence, which is increasingly prominent in voter’s minds as gas prices rise, to taking action on climate change, which still doesn’t rate as a key issue in the voting booth, shows an understanding of how to motivate the American public. And giving a speech on fuel efficiency in Detroit was a bold and important statement on his priorities.

And let’s take the candidate on climate change specifically in his own words:

“ Well, I don't believe that climate change is just an issue that's convenient to bring up during a campaign. I believe it's one of the greatest moral challenges of our generation. That's why I've fought successfully in the Senate to increase our investment in renewable fuels. That's why I reached across the aisle to come up with a plan to raise our fuel standards… And I didn't just give a speech about it in front of some environmental audience in California. I went to Detroit, I stood in front of a group of automakers, and I told them that when I am president, there will be no more excuses — we will help them retool their factories, but they will have to make cars that use less oil.” — Barack Obama, Speech in Des Moines, IA, October 14, 2007
A great moral challenge requires great leadership and swift, decisive action. President Obama, we look to you.

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mama (anonymous)

they be killin me to thee maxx

Written in November 2010

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