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Obama backers put carbon tax and other global warming efforts atop re-election agenda

- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 1, 2012

While even he admits disappointment in his first-term record on the fight against climate change, President Obama continues to enjoy strong support from environmentalists who say they are confident he can deliver a carbon tax and other far-reaching measures against global warming in a second term.

New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg provided the most recent evidence of that Thursday, announcing his endorsement of Mr. Obama's re-election bid in large part because he is "a president to lead on climate change."

"This issue is too important. We need determined leadership at the national level to move the nation and the world forward," Mr. Bloomberg, an independent, said, while questioning whether superstorm Sandy, which ravaged his city this week may have been the result of global warming. "The risk that it might be — given this week's devastation — should compel all elected leaders to take immediate action."

Mr. Obama has also received endorsements from the Sierra Club and other environmental groups, maintaining much of the support he cultivated during his first White House run four years ago.

That support has held steady despite several high-profile failures and major setbacks, including the failure to get a cap-and-trade greenhouse gas bill through the Democrat-dominated Congress of his first two years in office.

After promising to lead the world in the fight against climate change, Mr. Obama was unable to reach a deal with other world leaders at a much-touted global summit on climate change in Copenhagen in 2009. He was able only to cobble together a general "statement of principles."

Perhaps because of those setbacks, Mr. Obama has allowed climate change to be largely absent from the presidential campaign, though other factors have also played a role.

A struggling economy has overshadowed the issue throughout the president's first term, and that reality has extended to the contest between Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney. In a recent interview with MTV, the president flatly admitted he hasn't made as much progress as he had hoped, and also conceded the issue hasn't made it into the spotlight of the campaign.

"We're not moving as fast as we need to," Mr. Obama said. "I'm surprised [climate change] didn't come up in one of the debates."

Still hoping

That admission notwithstanding, environmentalist support remains strong and is based in large part on what Mr. Obama is expected to accomplish on the climate change front if given another term. He's implemented several measures during his first four years, but the sweeping, society-altering legislation many Democrats envisioned has yet to materialize.

Mr. Obama's biggest environmental push, the ill-fated cap-and-trade bill, stalled in Congress and deeply divided his own party, creating wedges that have only deepened with time. Sen. Joe Manchin III, West Virginia Democrat, used opposition to the legislation as a central part of his 2010 campaign, literally shooting a copy of the bill with a rifle in one television ad.

The bad blood between Mr. Manchin and other Appalachian Democrats and Mr. Obama's Environmental Protection Agency has only gotten worse since 2010. Earlier this week, Mr. Manchin joined West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and other state Democrats in denouncing what they said was the administration's latest steps to eliminate coal-mining jobs, the denial of Clean Water Act permits for Consol Energy's operation in Mingo County.

Environmental groups still think an all-encompassing, cap-and-trade-style bill — one that heavily taxes carbon emissions, seen as a key driver of global warming — is the necessary game-changer.

"I think that's a good way to go. ... We're going to need it, and from our perspective, it needed to be done yesterday," said Dr. Catherine Thomasson, the executive director of the group Physicians for Social Responsibility, which has made global warming one of its key issues.

But such a measure has little to no chance of passing Congress in the near future, unless Democrats both reclaim a supermajority in the Senate and retake control of the House. Political handicappers consider each happening extremely unlikely.

After cap and trade fizzled, Mr. Obama turned his attention to smaller, more targeted measures. The administration's auto fuel standards, which call for vehicles to get nearly 55 miles per gallon by 2025, will lower the nation's fuel consumption, thereby cutting carbon emissions significantly.

Mr. Obama's EPA, while facing mounting resistance, has taken severe steps to limit emissions from coal-fired power plants, effectively blocking the construction of any new plants. The administration has also invested billions of dollars in renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power, and repeatedly has called for the end of all tax credits and subsidies for oil and natural-gas companies.

"Some of the steps he's taken have made real and meaningful difference in the U.S.'s commitment to address the climate crisis," said Cathy Duvall, Sierra Club's national political director.

Green grumbling

But not everyone has been pleased, and several environmental groups have accused the president of failing to live up to his promises of being a revolutionary voice on the issue.

The environmental group Friends of Earth Action criticized both candidates after the third and final presidential debate, accusing them of sweeping global warming under the rug.

"By ignoring climate change, both President Obama and Gov. Romney are telling the rest of the world that they do not take it seriously," the group's president, Erich Pica, said in a statement.

Former Vice President Al Gore, a leading voice on the issue, criticized Mr. Obama in a Rolling Stone essay earlier this year for failing "to use the bully pulpit to make the case for bold action."

Even those favorable to what the president has done, such as Dr. Thomasson, acknowledge the issue largely has fallen off of the nation's radar screen recently, but count on a second Obama term to return it to prominence.

"Any politician in the U.S. has to respond to the will of the people," she said. "People do understand that climate change is happening, but they live in their own day-to-day existence, and they're more worried about their jobs, their children, who will pay the mortgage. So climate change doesn't bubble to the top. That's why it hasn't been in the news."

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