Is Obama the "environmental President?" Yes or no, he can still win climate fight

Obama's climate record has been "a runaway success", making him "the environmental President" argues Jonathan Chait. And the big fight of President Obama's second term will be about a new model for regulating existing power plants:

It sounds simple, but this was a conceptual breakthrough. Much like a cap-and-trade bill, it would allow market signals to indicate the most efficient ways for states to hit their targets—instead of shutting coal plants down, some utilities might pay consumers to weatherize their homes, while others might switch some of their generators over to cleaner fuels. The flexibility of the scheme would, in turn, reduce the costs passed on to consumers. Here is a way for Obama to use his powers—his own powers, unencumbered by the morass of a dysfunctional Congress—in such a way that is neither as ineffectual as a firecracker nor as devastating as a nuke: The NRDC calculates its plan would reduce our reliance on coal by about a quarter and national carbon emissions by 10 percent.

This is the last best chance to deal with global warming in the Obama era. The prospect, for environmentalists, is exhilarating but also harrowing. The struggle will be lengthy, waged largely behind closed doors, and its outcome won’t be known until the Obama presidency is nearly over.

David Roberts at Grist had a good response post, saying Chait mostly gets it right, but puts the question of whether Obama can be justifiably considered "the environmental President" into the proper context:

The question here is — as it is for every historical figure, but especially Obama, and especially on climate — compared to what?

Is Obama a success on climate compared to what needs to be done? Ha ha. No. Of course not. But then all world leaders fail that test. Chait says 17 percent carbon reductions by 2020 is greens’ “holy grail,” but it’s more like a moldy grail. We now know that much more is needed. For the U.S. to truly do its part, to achieve carbon zero by 2040 or so, would require massive systems change, an all-hands-on-deck wartime mobilization. Obama is not delivering that, or anything close, nor could he.

Roberts doesn't see it changing the Keystone XL debate, either:

To be clear, I absolutely think Obama should reject the Keystone pipeline. It is the right thing to do, on both substantive grounds and on the basis of its powerful symbolic value. Some people think the Keystone fight is preventing or constraining what otherwise might be bipartisan progress on energy; I think that’s nonsense. Some think Obama can get “credibility” or “credit” from his congressional opponents if he approves Keystone; that’s nonsense too. Any Republican or fossil-state Dem who plans to fight Obama on EPA regs will fight him regardless of what he does on Keystone. But on the merits, it’s clear that those regs, especially the ones on existing power plants, are the bigger brass ring, the fight that must be won.

Read the rest at New York and Grist.

VIDEO: NRDC's Dan Lashof explains NRDC's ground-breaking proposal to close power plant loopholes and clean up the nation's biggest climate polluters.

Tags: Barack Obama | Carbon Dioxide | Carbon Emissions | Carbon Footprint | Carbon Sequestration | Coal | Congress | Economics | Electricity | Energy | Environmental Policy

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