Our Opinion: Modest hope on climate
The climate change measures announced last week by President Obama should have come years ago, along with far more aggressive proposals. The president nonetheless deserves praise for the initiatives, but the need to include measures to address the irreversible impact of global warming says plenty about the refusal of the world's nations to stop destroying the planet they share.
"We don't have time for a meeting of the flat Earth society," said the president in announcing his plans, most of which do not require congressional approval, in a speech Tuesday at Georgetown University. Mr. Obama attempted to work with Congress on climate change initiatives in his first term, but the flat Earthers blocked him at every turn. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell complained Tuesday that the president was circumventing Congress, but presidents do have the authority to take some actions unilaterally, and Democratic and Republican presidents have done so. And if Senator McConnell and his party had cooperated with the president four years ago he wouldn't be taking the route he is taking today.
The plan would expand production of solar and wind energy, and includes billions of dollars in loan guarantees designed to encourage development of cleaner energy technologies. The more energy that can be generated from clean energy sources the less energy that must be generated from sources that pollute the atmosphere, and the clean energy field offers jobs with a long-term future. Mr. Obama directed the federal EPA to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant in domestic power plants, although the specifics of how the EPA would accomplish this must still be established. In his first term, the president pledged to establish regulations reducing carbon emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. That's a tall order that the EPA can now get to work on, although lawsuits and other stalling tactics can be anticipated.
The president said that the Keystone pipeline that would bring oil extracted from Canadian tar sands through the American Midwest to Gulf Coast refineries should not be built if the result is the production of more greenhouse gases. The production of more gases that fuel global warming would seem to be inevitable. That aside, a pipeline carrying a particularly noxious form of oil through the U.S. so Canada can sell gas to China, India and South America has no tangible upside for the U.S. and a potentially devastating downside if the pipeline should leak.
Mr. Obama promised to try to work with China and India, two major polluter nations, to address global warming on a worldwide basis. With those two nations beginning to realize that fouling their rivers and suffocating their citizens are counter-productive they may actually be responsive to such an effort.
The president's call for increased efforts to anticipate floods, droughts and wildfires is in keeping with efforts in New York City and New Jersey to address rising sea levels in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Sadly, a lot of damage has been done and cannot be undone on the climate front, and the best that can be accomplished is to prepare communities and states to do deal with the inevitable ramifications.
Massachusetts, like much of the Northeast, has been ahead of the rest of the nation on climate change issues. This state is part of the nine-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative which encourages polluting power plants to invest in cleaner technologies by raising permit costs on polluters. Massachusetts also has among the nation's strictest rules governing air quality. If new federal air quality regulations are weaker than Massachusetts' than the state's should have precedence. That caveat aside, President Obama's plan has great promise, even if there is not enough time or political will in Congress to really take on the threat climate changes poses to the nation and the globe.
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