- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 26, 2011

Former Vice President Al Gore’s criticism of President Obama on climate change and the administration’s failure to install solar panels as promised on the roof of the White House are shining a light on growing disillusionment with the president among environmental activists.

While conservatives have expressed relief that Mr. Obama’s push for a carbon tax has stalled, green activists are showing increasing frustration with what they view as Mr. Obama’s timidity on the greenhouse-gas issue and other environmental concerns.

“We all expected more from this president,” said Mike Tidwell, executive director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “I am personally deeply disappointed. On the environment, he has led from the rear.”

Mr. Gore’s claim that the president has “failed to use the bully pulpit to make the case for bold action on climate change” struck Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, as “on target.”

Mr. O’Donnell said many environmentalists not affiliated with the Obama re-election campaign fault the president for failing to speak out more forcefully about climate change.

“There’s real disappointment,” Mr. O’Donnell said. “If anything, they’ve tacked away from the issue. It would be nice to hear the president speak from his heart.”

Mr. Obama began his presidency with an ambitious “cap and trade” plan that would put a price on carbon emissions. The bill was approved in the Democrat-led House in 2009, but it died in the Senate.

Many House lawmakers who voted for cap and trade lost their seats in the 2010 elections as Republicans regained control of the House. Since then, Mr. Obama has focused more on promoting clean energy and renewable fuels such as solar power.

As the economy remains weak, Mr. Obama has had to contend with criticism from business leaders that his regulations, including those from the Environmental Protection Agency, are stunting job growth.

The president has been talking the talk of clean energy, but last week the administration failed on a matter of solar symbolism.

The White House missed its deadline, announced with great fanfare last fall by Energy Secretary Steven Chu, to install solar panels on the roof of the executive mansion by the first day of summer. The administration blamed delays in the federal bidding process, which struck some environmentalists as a lame excuse.

“President Obama is the one who says we have to get good at doing multiple things at the same time,” Mr. Tidwell said. “If you can’t figure out the bureaucracy, it’s hard to imagine that you’ve mastered the art of walking and chewing gum at the same time.”

In his office’s basement, Mr. Tidwell keeps a solar panel that President Jimmy Carter had installed on the White House roof for a water heater in the late 1970s. His organization last year offered it back to the Obama White House, without success.

“It still works,” he said.

Administration officials say that Mr. Obama has done more to promote clean energy than any other president by spending the most in the nation’s history on such initiatives in the 2009 stimulus law.

The president said the expense is necessary, along with measures such as higher fuel-economy standards for automobiles, to wean the nation from its reliance on foreign oil and create good-paying jobs.

Mr. Obama also acknowledges that his energy policy is a work in progress.

“Some of the big projects that we set for ourselves during the [2008] campaign have not yet been done,” Mr. Obama told Democratic campaign donors in New York City last week. “We still don’t have an energy policy that is suitable for the 21st century. We still have to invest in clean energy. … We still have that project to deal with climate change in a serious way. Those things haven’t changed.”

He also mentioned building electric cars in the U.S. as a priority.

Jim DiPeso, policy director of Republicans for Environmental Protection, said Mr. Obama has allowed Congress to take too much control of the energy agenda, thus diluting it.

“He has left the initiative to Congress, where 535 lawmakers have 535 ideas about the right path to take,” Mr. DiPeso said.

Whether environmentalists’ disappointment with the president will have an impact on his re-election isn’t known.

A Gallup poll in March gave Mr. Obama a 55 percent approval rating on his handling of the environment, down from 79 percent in his first year in office. (President George W. Bush received a 31 percent approval rating on the environment in his final year in office.) But Mr. Obama’s drop on this issue has mirrored his overall decline in job approval.

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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