Where Does Obama Stand on Climate Legislation?
Photo via Time
Obama's Cap and Trade is Out of the Budget
Okay, so we heard time and again over the course of that campaign a few months back that we'd see some "swift" and "comprehensive" action on climate change. Yet Obama's proposed cap and trade was removed from the version of the budget passed by both the House and Senate—with little to no protest from the president. Now, let's not start panicking yet, since the man's been in office not even three month yet—but as the NY Times points out, there's reason to believe that climate legislation is sliding down Obama's priority list. On the surface, Obama's speeches and rhetoric regarding global warming are more fiery and pointed than ever—just look to his oration in Turkey, or any given sound bite he offers when Democrats make movement on the issue for proof. And yet, beyond vague statements about how he's in favor of a cap and trade, Obama's been hesitant to firmly support for any specific policy or reveal the details of a system he'd favor.
He didn't even endorse the Democrat's massive climate and energy bill. When it comes to fighting climate change with legislation, the truth of the matter is that despite the speeches, Obama's been all but silent.
Now, there could be a number of reasons for this: a) he's genuinely unsure how best to navigate the political waters to get climate legislation passed, and is cautiously gathering data, b) curbing emissions and fighting climate change truly does not rank among his highest priorities, c) he's slyly implementing political gamesmanship to push the issue through external forces like imbuing his EPA with the ability to regulate greenhouse gases, or d) a combination of all three.
Obama Playing the Climate Game
I've written before on how Obama seems to be positioning the EPA as a sort of bargaining tool in this regard—if opponents of climate legislation would abandon it altogether, then fine: here's a big ol' 1984-ish EPA that can regulate any business or individual that emits too much carbon. Now, you wouldn't want that, would you? Of course not. Then why don't you take a look at this cap and trade over here.
And while I still believe that to be the case, he does seem to be relinquishing some pressure—after seeing the protests his cap generated, perhaps he's gotten a taste of the political fight he faces in getting climate legislation passed in the midst of a recession, and has backed off. It is strange that he'd let his own cap and trade go quietly into the night, and not get behind the Democrat's bill, however. Obama appears a little unnervingly content to let the issue recede into the background domestically, while claiming to be ready to take the mantle of leadership on climate change in speeches abroad.
Obama's Opportunity for Climate Legislation
Then again, it could be far too early to tell—he could very well be cautiously surveying the political chessboard, while moving his pieces into place. But he also could've gotten discouraged by the failed budget amendment and the poor results of his international climate conferences, and decided to focus instead on health care reform and foreign policy first instead.
Which would be a fatal mistake—he's got some momentum and political capital left to spare; and legislation curbing greenhouse gas emissions must be passed as soon as possible. It'd be a battle, sure, but with a little bit of that Obama touch, climate legislation could pass the House and the Senate this year—and that's an opportunity we can't afford to pass up.