- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Environmental groups have high hopes for President-elect Barack Obama’s ambitious campaign promises to re-craft the nation’s energy policy to deter global warming and for a team of administrators they hope will reverse President Bush’s policies.

However, environmentalists who expect to support Mr. Obama’s green agenda are cautious with their hopes following eight years of stalled efforts to increase carbon-emission caps and invest in renewable energy

“There’s no time to rest from the environmental point of view,” said Michael Crocker, spokesman for Greenpeace. “It’s going to require substantial pressure from environmental groups and from the public.”

Mr. Obama’s pledge to invest $150 billion in renewable-energy projects has drawn the widest accolades from environmental groups, although it is the one piece of the environmental package with a definitive price tag, amid the national economic turmoil.

The Obama campaign’s New Energy for America plan tackles a broad range of energy initiatives and air-quality measures.

According to the Obama campaign Web site, the new administration would:

cCreate 5 million “green jobs” by spending $150 billion for renewable energy investments.

cPut 1 million hybrid cars, which would get 150 miles to the gallon, on the road by 2015.

cRequire the United States to get 10 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2012 and increase the floor to 25 percent by 2025.

cEstablish a national cap-and-trade program to cut carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050.

A key player in the Senate, Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman, New Mexico Democrat, said he expects any legislation that would move through the Senate to be “in sync” with the Obama-Biden plan but that proposals likely will move separately and not all at once.

Mr. Bingaman’s comments Monday to a group at the Center for Strategic and International Studies appear to reaffirm concerns from environmental activists that even with Mr. Obama in the White House and new, increased Democratic margins in Congress, their priorities are not guaranteed.

Immediate successes are “by no means certain,” Mr. Crocker said. “There’s still a contingent in Congress that has opposed the kind of science-based targets we need for emission-based controls.”

Environmentalists support a more aggressive tack than has been supported by moderates and sound as though they will have strong backing from the incoming Obama administration.

“There’s a very lengthy list of things which needs to be fixed; the list is almost incalculable” said Josh Dorner, spokesman for the Sierra Club.

In the Senate, environmental groups say breaking the impasse established by Republican senators, who number 49 in the current Congress, has been nearly impossible.

“For so long there has been the vocal and persistent minority in the Senate that has blocked most of the major pieces of legislation on clean energy and global warming,” said Josh McNeil, spokesman for the League of Conservation Voters.

The incoming Congress, with large margins of Democrats in both chambers, is expected to ease passage of any environmental measures the Obama administration introduces. Still, Mr. McNeil is cautious, like his peers.

“We’re not counting votes before they’re taken,” he said.

Speculation over who would lead Mr. Obama’s efforts, either as a possible “energy czar” or as a member of a likely National Energy Security Council, has environmental groups generally optimistic.

Carol M. Browner, who led the Environmental Protection Agency under former President Bill Clinton, has been mentioned as a likely choice for any leadership role in the new administration.

Robert M. Sussman, who co-chairs the energy and environment group with Ms. Browner for the transition team, also has been mentioned as a likely choice to serve in some capacity.

Higher-profile picks, including former Vice President Al Gore and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, have said recently that they do not plan to take jobs in the new administration.

The incoming Obama administration has not yet submitted any formal policy proposals, and the transition team is quiet about who would champion such efforts, but an opinion column by Mr. Sussman points to quick action from the new administration.

“A bigger danger than short-term economic disruption is the risk that an overly modest emission target will encourage business-as-usual thinking, with utilities, energy suppliers, and manufacturers delaying investment in emission reduction strategies because there is no real pressure to make them,” Mr. Sussman wrote for a Nov. 7 publication of the Center for American Progress.

“This will work to the United States’ detriment, because we will lose an opportunity to gain a competitive edge in low-carbon technologies that can support economic growth and job creation,” he continued.

In the opinion piece, Mr. Sussman, who served as deputy Environmental Protection Agency administrator for Mr. Clinton, was responding to draft legislation by the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Michigan Democrat John Dingell.

The Dingell plan, co-written with Rep. Rick Boucher, Virginia Democrat, mirrors many ideas outlined in a letter House Democrats wrote to Speaker Nancy Pelosi in October supporting new environmental regulations.

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