- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Environmentalists fear their top priority - a national climate-change policy - will be sidetracked in Congress by concerns over the slumping economy.

President-elect Barack Obama has said the policy is a “matter of urgency” and furthered his commitment on Monday by naming the top members of his energy and environment team. He said the team would lead his drive toward renewable energy and away from oil and would coordinate the often interlocked domains of energy and climate policy.

Yet the green lobby, filled with optimism after the election of a Democratic president and Congress, now sees the expanding meltdown of the economy as a major obstacle.

“One thing we face is the inaccurate assessment that additional environmental concerns will affect the economy the wrong way,” said Tony Iallonardo, public-policy communications director for the Audubon Society. “Overcoming some of that will be a challenge, and that´s what we´re trying to do.”

Roger Schlickeisen, chief executive officer of the Defense of Wildlife Action Fund, said critics should remember that economic activity depends on a healthy planet.

At a minimum, he said, a federal policy on climate change should call for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050, more so if technological advances allow it.

“It is the living natural world that provides for our [gross national product],” Mr. Schlickeisen said. “If we let that biodiversity diminish, we will be perilously undermining our economy. You can´t have a strong economy without a healthy environment.”

Whether most Americans agree with that connection is another matter. “I don´t think they do,” he said. “That´s part of the education problem.”

A coalition of 27 leading environmental groups last month released a report, “Transition to Green,” aimed at providing an environmental blueprint for the Obama administration. The 391-page document, which offers recommendations on a host of environmental issues, refers to the promise of a green economy led by the renewable-energy industry.

“In November, Americans made their preference clear that the federal government has a critical role to play in unleashing homegrown, innovative energy solutions that would create new jobs, reduce global warming pollution and cut our nation´s dependence on oil,” the coalition said in a Nov. 25 statement.

At the same time, however, coalition members made it clear that their top environmental priority remains climate change. The solution, they say, is a federal policy that would feature a carbon cap-and-trade system aimed at reducing emissions.

“Such a system is critical to address climate change and raise revenue needed to transition to a clean energy economy,” the statement said.

And there´s the rub, critics said. Placing restrictions on automobile, airplane and industrial emissions or charging a fee to those unwilling or unable to reduce theirs, isn´t exactly a recipe for economic revitalization.

“There´s no question that invoking a policy that´s going to reduce emissions is going to have a damaging effect on the economy, and everybody knows that,” said Robin Rivett, president of the Pacific Legal Foundation, a pro-industry group based in Sacramento, Calif.

“This administration´s top priority is economic recovery,” he said. “There´s going to be a tremendous backlash if you put global warming at the top of the agenda. We´re going to have a very strong economy before you can regulate business in that way.”

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