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Five decisions will shed light on whether the president is serious about his
pledge to act on global warming in his second term.
Barack Obama has renewed
his promise to act on climate change in his second term in the White House – but
a lot of other issues are competing for his attention.
Before his swearing-in on Monday, here are some decisions to watch to see
whether climate change has made it to the top of the list.
The green dream team of Obama's first administration has almost completely
disbanded. Lisa Jackson, the administrator of the Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA), and Ken Salazar, the interior secretary, announced their
departures this month, and Steven Chu, the energy secretary, is expected to
resign soon. The White House climate and energy adviser, Carol Browner, left in
2010 and that post remains unfilled. Campaigners will be watching to see whether
Obama finally installs a new adviser with a broad mandate in the White House.
They are also hoping to see strong advocates for the environment in the cabinet
– especially at the EPA which has emerged as a prime target of conservative
Obama soon after his re-election promised to start a national conversation about
climate change. He will probably say a few words in his inauguration speech on
Monday and his State of the Union address next month, and that could buoy up
campaigners' hopes for a time. Obama has committed to cutting America's
greenhouse gas emissions 17% by the end of the decade, and 50% by 2050 (from
2005 levels). But the president has yet to devote a major speech to climate, or
use his powers to try to build a national movement for cutting emissions or
preparing for the changed climate of the future. Campaigners will be looking to
see if Obama is willing to invest his own political capital – as he has pledged
to do on gun control – in getting that conversation, and movement, started.
Use his Powers
Congress failed to pass a climate law, but Obama can still take important steps
to reduce the emissions that cause climate change. Campaigners are pushing the
EPA to introduce new standards on existing power plants, which account for 40%
of America's emissions.
The EPA during Obama's first term set new rules that, the coal industry claims,
will make it virtually impossible to build any new coal-fired plants. But
campaigners say Obama needs to take the next step and begin cleaning up or
phasing out existing, older generation coal-fired power plants.
Obama put off a decision about the Keystone XL pipeline until after the
election, but now he is running out of time. Campaigners, the oil industry and
the Canadian government are pushing for a decision soon. The project would
transport close to 1m barrels of crude oil a day from the Alberta tar sands to
refineries on the Texas Gulf coast, and its supporters say it would create jobs
and boost the economy. It would also unlock the vast store of carbon of
landlocked Alberta. Obama has indicated he favours the pipeline, fast-tracking
construction of the southern portion. Campaigners are still holding out hope he
will hold off on final approval. Obama's decision – and how he frames that
decision in terms of jobs v the environment – should be revealing.
Obama opened up the Arctic for offshore exploration as part of his "all of the
above" energy strategy. But a series of mishaps and near-misses by Shell in its
first season of drilling caused Salazar and some of his closest advisers to have
second thoughts about drilling for oil in the harsh Arctic environment. Shell's
drilling plans, including its safety and environmental preparations, are now
under a 60-day high-level review. Campaigners say Obama has an opening to impose
much stronger safeguards, or even suspend drilling, in the pristine environment.