Thursday, December 11, 2008

Obama and Gore Meet, Envisioning a New Era in U.S. Climate Leadership

President-elect Barack Obama  with former Vice President Al Gore in Chicago.
President-elect Barack Obama with former Vice President Al Gore in Chicago.

By Dan Shapley

President-elect Barack Obama met with former vice president turned failed presidential candidate turned Nobel Prize-winning climate champion Al Gore Tuesday.

Obama emerged from the meeting talking about global warming as a national security threat, according to Reuters, and renewable energy as an economic opportunity, which evidently satisfied Gore, who has championed the idea of transforming all U.S. electricity production to clean sources within 10 years. Obama hasn't embraced that goal, exactly, but he has pledged to invest something on the order of $150 billion over 10 years into renewable energy, energy efficiency and the like, while enacting a defacto tax on carbon via a cap-and-trade regulation similar to the one that reduced the threat from acid rain.

While no one expected Gore to be offered, or to accept, a position in the administration -- he's repeatedly said he doesn't want one -- there was news that another former environmental heavyweight from the Clinton Administration would be returning to Washington. Carol Browner, Clinton's EPA administrator and subsequently the chairwoman of the Audubon Society, among other roles, will take on a role as an environmental and energy adviser in some unspecified capacity, according to the Washington Post.

The convergence of Clinton-era environmental bigwigs at Obama's transition headquarters in Chicago, however, doesn't erase George W. Bush's legacy, which by all accounts is dismal. Despite a handful of praise-worthy regulations, such as those regulating diesel emissions from construction equipment, and the prospect of new ocean sanctuaries being preserved thanks largely to the lobbying of First Lady Laura Bush, the Bush legacy has been roundly denounced by environmental advocates of all types.

If nothing else, Bush was consistent: from the early days of closed-door energy policy meetings held by Vice President Dick Cheney with fossil fuel-burning power companies to the midnight regulations being approved now that will allow for greater air pollution, reduce the ability of citizens to avoid toxic exposure and reduce protections for endangered lands and creatures.

The EPA, particularly, has suffered from rampant politicization, as decision-making once left to scientists has been handed over to ideologues, as an ongoing series in the Philadelphia Inquirer makes clear.

It's little surprise, then, that advocacy groups are calling loudly for the restoration of a strong federal role in environmental protection. That sentiment was also heard in Poznan, Poland, where the latest round of United Nations negotiations over a new climate change treaty wrapped up clear targets set for reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

Obama has clearly stated near-term and long-term goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, which was, up until recently, the world's pollution leader. Gore, who is as keenly aware of the failures of Bush environmental policy as anyone on Earth, will, with his tremendous clout and following, no doubt be holding Obama accountable.

Recap: Obama's Speech on Global Warming

In a speech delivered via video to a bipartisan climate summit in California in November, Obama pledged to take strong action to combat global warming. Here's what he had to say:

Original here

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