Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Brown states see red over green promises

THE AGE, John Broder, Washington 
January 28, 2009

PRESIDENT Barack Obama is moving quickly on the environmental promises that were a centrepiece of his campaign, but tackling global warming will be more difficult and costly than the new emissions standards for vehicles he ordered with the stroke of a pen.

Mr Obama has moved on two fronts to force car makers to produce more fuel-efficient vehicles, including a major step in permitting states to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions.

But already the congressional Democrats whom Mr Obama will need to carry out his mandate are feuding. Most of the policymakers on Capitol Hill and in the Administration charged with shaping legislation to address global warming come from California or the East Coast — regions that lead the country in environmental regulation and the push for renewable energy sources.

That is a problem, say Democratic politicians from the Midwest and Plains states, which are dependent on coal and manufacturing. They intend to fight legislation they think might further damage their economies.

This brown state-green state clash could hamper efforts to set a mandatory ceiling on carbon dioxide emissions. Mr Obama has said he intends to proceed on such an initiative, despite opposition in his own party and divisions among some of his advisers over the timing, scope and cost of legislation to curb emissions.

The centrist Democrats who urge a slower-paced approach represent states that are crucial electoral battlegrounds. They say global warming is a threat and will support legislation to address it but not at the expense of their workers and industries.

These Democrats are concerned that climate bills will be written by committees in the House and Senate led by two liberal California Democrats, Senator Barbara Boxer and Representative Henry Waxman, and shaped by Mr Obama's team of environmental and energy advisers, nearly all of whom are from California or the East Coast.

For decades, California has led the nation in environmental regulation. For example, the state derived only 20.7 per cent of its electricity from coal and 40 per cent from hydroelectric power and renewable sources in 2005, while Ohio drew 86 per cent of its electricity from coal that year, according to the Energy Department. Other states of the Great Lakes and Plains are much more like Ohio than California in energy usage.

In a 10-minute announcement at the White House, Mr Obama became the first US president to envision environmentalism as a creator of jobs on a large scale and as a boon to the nation's defence.

"We will make it clear to the world that America is ready to lead. To protect our climate and our collective security, we must call together a truly global coalition," he said, before signing three executive orders and memorandums on environmental issues.

They included an order for the Department of Transportation to fulfil car fuel efficiency standards for 2011, which were set in a 2007 law but not enforced by the Bush government.


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