Obama gets it right on climate change


Here we go on the political see-saw with President Obama. Just last week, it was a sharp move down, as the White House continued to knuckle under to Big Oil interests on the critical issue of offshore drilling as it signed off on the risky practice of offshore drilling in the Arctic while continuing to promote new oil exploration in the Atlantic and elsewhere. The administration’s pro-drilling moves are deeply disappointing because they undercut Obama’s broader message on climate change.

When it comes to global warming, the president and his fellow Democrats have been stymied by the congressional dominance of Republicans, who have completely given in to the talk-radio-powered climate-change-denial wing of the conservative movement. With even moderate, market-oriented ideas like “cap-and-trade” now off the table on Capitol Hill, the only option for the Obama administration is to use its regulatory powers. This week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced its final rules to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, and they are a huge step in the right direction:

WASHINGTON — President Obama on Monday unveiled an aggressive plan to sharply limit greenhouse gases emitted by the nation’s power plants, declaring that time was running out to thwart the most dangerous impacts of global climate change.

“No challenge poses a greater threat to our future and future generations than a changing climate,” Mr. Obama said in a speech from the East Room of the White House as he announced his most ambitious action to date to tackle the planet’s rising temperatures. “There is such a thing as being too late when it comes to climate change.”

The president, who wants to make his initiatives to address the warming of the planet a central element of his legacy, called the new rules a public health imperative and “the single most important step America has ever taken in the fight against global climate change.” He also sought to wrap the policy in the legitimacy of transcendental values, noting that Pope Francis had issued an encyclical in June, calling action on the issue a “moral obligation.”

Even as Mr. Obama acknowledged the steep resistance from coal-producing states and industry critics to a plan that could lead to the closing of hundreds of polluting coal-fired plants, he said it was up to the United States to adopt tough standards so that other countries like China would feel compelled to take similar steps.

“When the world faces its toughest challenges, America leads the way forward,” the president said. “That’s what this plan is about.”

To be clear, this is only a first step down a long road toward saving the planet. The Obama plan — which sets state-by-state standards for reducing carbon pollution — creates new targets for renewable energy that are somewhat ambitious, but still well short of what other industrialized nations, most notably Germany, have already achieved. Although the new goal for reducing greenhouse gases is more stringent than an earlier draft of the power-plant proposal, the drop in emissions still isn’t what some scientists say will be necessary to prevent catastrophic climate change impacts.

Wrote the online magazine Slate — “Obama wants you to think his climate plan is bold, but it’s not“:

And as Slate’s Daniel Politi writes, there’s no guarantee the plan will endure in its current form after the president leaves office. Obama’s plan faces a phalanx of attacks from the political right, and legal challenges—which may take several years—could find their way to the Supreme Court. Obama has vowed to veto any actions to weaken it from a hostile Congress as long as he remains in office. As Jason Plautz of National Journal writes, the next president may not be so climate-friendly, so the ultimate fate of Obama’s climate legacy will be in the hands of others.

That’s correct, but on today’s news I prefer to see the glass as half-full. In the face of unrelenting hostility — from the Republican Party and the big money corporate interests that support them — the president is moving the nation in the right direction, which is no small feat. It is, indeed, up to the next president to advance the ball much further down the field. That’s why the 2016 election is so important. Planet Earth may not be able to stand eight years of pedaling backwards.

Read more about President Obama’s historic plan to reduce U.S. carbon emissions from power plants: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/04/us/obama-unveils-plan-to-sharply-limit-greenhouse-gas-emissions.html?ref=us

Check out Slate’s critical analysis of the proposal: http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2015/08/02/obama_climate_change_plan_the_clean_power_plan_is_supposed_to_be_bold_but.html

For more on how America can have a smarter energy policy, check out my new book, Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on Americahttp://shop.benbellabooks.com/crude-justice

© Stuart H. Smith, LLC 2015 – All Rights Reserved

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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