Green

Obama puts full-court press on climate change foes

In the wake of its health care reform victory yesterday (the inclusion of a public option), the Obama administration today turned its attention to climate change — it’s other big campaign promise that has yet to come to fruition. While Energy Secretary Steven Chu lobbied for the Kerry-Boxer climate bill on Capitol Hill, president Obama unveiled $3.4 billion in grants for carbon-minimizing Smart Grid technology, and vice president Joe Biden promoted Fisker Automotive’s new plug-in hybrid-electric car plant in Delaware.

Together, the administration and its proponents in Congress, urged those opposing global warming legislation to take a different approach. Instead of assuming that the cap-and-trade system and renewable energy mandates being pitched would hurt the economy, the Senate should consider the economic opportunities these changes would create, Chu told the Environment and Public Works Committee, where the bill is still mired in debate.

Today was the first of three days of committee hearings on the matter, during which time both senators John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) will speak on the bill’s behalf.

The legislation’s detractors argue that if passed, it would damage the already struggling economy and financially penalize average energy consumers unnecessarily. Calling the bill convoluted and expensive, republicans and democrats from industrial states where coal and carbon-emitting manufacturing still reign supreme — like senator Max Baucus (D-Mont.) — have so far stood firm in their opposition.

Boxer admitted in testimony today that the changes proposed in the bill would raise energy costs 22 to 30 cents a day for the average family. She meant for this figure to sound minimal, but her rivals ran with it in the other direction, stressing that these “pennies” eventually add up. “The bill is no doubt ambitious, but it’s also extremely costly,” responded senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.), who is so staunch in his opposition to the climate bill that he says he plans to bring a global warming-doubting “truth squad” to the international climate change conference in Copenhagen in December.

In order to turn this attitude toward the bill around, the Obama administration will need to focus a lot more time and energy on winning individual votes back from reluctant Democrats. Right now, the fate of the climate bill doesn’t look good. It’s been months since the similar Waxman-Markey climate bill won approval in the House, and since then climate change legislation has been shifted to the back burner several times. Analysts now believe it won’t come to a vote in the Senate until next year, and even leading executives in the cleantech sector have become pessimistic about its chances.

Today’s energetic unified front on behalf of climate change is a promising sign — but it’s an A-game that will need to be brought several days, weeks, months in a row if Obama wants to make good on his promise to act against global warming by the end of 2010. Needless to say, it’s probably already too late for him to have positive progress to show off in Copenhagen in less than two months.

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