Obama’s Climate Policy in Political Pressure Cooker

President Barack Obama stands amidst greenery where the Exit Glacier covered the land as recently as 1961. Sept. 2, 2015 (Photo courtesy The White House)


WASHINGTON, DC, September 8, 2015 (ENS) – President Barack Obama’s efforts to curb U.S. carbon emissions and forge a global consensus for action to reverse climate change before it’s too late go farther than any U.S. president has ever gone. But Obama is under pressure from both sides to change his position.

Some scientists and environmentalists are pushing Obama to go much farther than the current U.S. target of 26-28 percent emissions cuts by 2025. But Congressional Republicans are deriding Obama’s climate protection policies and working to undermine them.

President Barack Obama stands amidst greenery where Alaska’s Exit Glacier covered the land as recently as 1961. Sept. 2, 2015 (Photo courtesy The White House)

On September 2, Obama was in Alaska witnessing the effects of climate warming. He had just told an international conference, “Human activity is disrupting the climate, in many ways faster than we previously thought. The science is stark. It is sharpening. It proves that this once-distant threat is now very much in the present.”

That day, a group of scientists and environmental, faith, civic and cultural leaders challenged Obama to “champion a U.S. goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2025” at the upcoming UN climate conference in Paris in December. There, world leaders are expected to sign a universal, legally-binding deal to limit emissions.

The challenge, issued in the form of an open letter, describes the administration’s target of 26-28 percent emissions cuts by 2025 as a “weak” goal “that cannot be described as honest, courageous, or responsible in the face of a crisis that threatens the continued existence of humanity.”

The initiator of the letter is Tom Weis, president of the Colorado-based Climate Crisis Solutions, a mission-driven environmental consulting firm dedicated to solving the global climate crisis through the creation of a green energy paradigm for America.

Weis said, “Photo ops in Alaska will not salvage President Obama’s climate legacy. Climate leaders fight for all that we love, not for all-of-the-above.”

In view of the administration’s permits awarded to Shell Oil for exploratory drilling in the Arctic this summer, the letter calls on Obama to abandon his “all-of-the-above” energy policy, said Weis,

The letter was signed by authors Lester Brown and Terry Tempest Williams; actors Mark Ruffalo and Ed Begley, Jr.; environmentalists David Suzuki, Winona LaDuke, Tim DeChristopher and Yeb Saño; filmmaker Josh Fox; musician Moby; and scientist Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, a coordinating lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 5th Assessment Report, among others.

The Arctic sea ice cap reached its annual maximum winter extent on Feb. 25, 2015 according to the NASA-supported National Snow and Ice Data Center. This year’s maximum was the smallest and one of the earliest on record. (Image courtesy NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center)

Saño, a former climate change commissioner of the Philippines, said, “Climate change presents a clear and present danger for us and is already profoundly affecting many vulnerable communities around the world. The only path to climate justice is for the U.S. to embrace the zero emissions paradigm.”

After inking agreements with China on emissions cuts and clean coal technology and creating consensus with other nations on the need to curb climate change, Obama told the conference in Alaska, “We’re starting to see that enough consensus is being built internationally and within each of our own body politics that we may have the political will – finally – to get moving.”

But not if Congressional Republicans have anything to say about it. With their majority in both the House and the Senate, Republicans are taking aim at Obama’s political will.

Republican Senate staffers, led by those in Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office, have been reportedly been contacting officials of other countries to warn that the White House’s pledges of emissions cuts and aid funding to help developing countries cope with climate change will not make it past Republican opposition in Congress or the election of a Republican president in 2016.

Obama’s 26-28 percent emissions reduction pledge is central to the U.S. negotiating position at the UN climate conference in Paris in December, but it is based on the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan, finalized August 3, the first regulation covering emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from existing power plants.

power plant
Allegheny Energy’s Harrison coal-burning power plant in West Virginia emits greenhouse gases.(Photo by Allegheny Energy)

On August 25, staffers with the Republican majority on the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee issued a report that they say shows how the Obama Administration “abused” the legal system to force limitations on greenhouse gas emissions.

“This Report, for the first time, exposes in depth how the settlement process was abused in a way that prevented the American people and those parties responsible for implementing the rules from knowing basic details of EPA’s plans to regulate, let alone from participating in the process,” the Majority Staff Report states.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says the Clean Power Plan was, “Shaped by years of unprecedented outreach and public engagement.”

The agency says the rule sets forth “strong but achievable standards for power plants” and calls it “fair, flexible and designed to strengthen the fast-growing trend toward cleaner and lower-polluting American energy.”

Obama says the Clean Power Plan “shows the world that the United States is committed to leading global efforts to address climate change.”

But Senate Republicans appear determined to block these efforts in the courts. The Majority Staff report concludes, “EPA’s process for developing the carbon rules appears to have deviated from the Agency’s statutory authority under the Clean Air Act and established policies and circumvented transparency laws and public participation requirements.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2015. All rights reserved.


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