Obama’s 2014 Climate Push Proves Policy Is Above Politics

Bill Scher

When the State Department delayed its decision on the Keystone pipeline because the specific route is tied up in the Nebraska courts, pipeline supporters accused President Obama of playing politics, avoiding a polarizing decision before the midterm elections.

When the EPA was slow to formally submit a proposed rule limiting carbon emissions on new power plants, effectively delaying the finalization until after the midterm elections, politics was charged again.

But if President Obama wants to duck climate politics before the midterms, he has a funny way of showing it.

As the Associated Press reported this week, the EPA is planning to formally propose it’s biggest set of climate rules covering existing power plants “within weeks.”

And vulnerable Democrats running in fossil-fuel friendly states are not happy about it: “Democrats are fighting most of their toughest races this year in conservative-leaning states that rely heavily on the energy industry, including Louisiana, Arkansas, Kentucky, West Virginia, Alaska and Montana. Already, conservative groups have spent millions accusing Democrats in those states of supporting energy policies that would impede local jobs and economic development.”

Frankly, I assume if it was possible to delay these rules until after the election, Obama would. But as the AP notes: “Unless he starts now, the rules won’t be in place before he leaves office, making it easier for his successor to stop them.”

In other words, policy is more important than politics.

Obama could punt on the whole climate altogether. He could settle for small executive actions to placate his political base but avoid controversial decisions that roil swing states. If protecting as many Democrats as possible was the ultimate goal, that’s what he would do. But he’s not.

I don’t write this to genuflect toward the President, but to emphasize the political risk being taken and what it demands of us.

As I’ve noted before, while the EPA can technically act without Congress, a massive right-wing backlash could still undermine the rules. The politics are extremely delicate. Obama surely is proceeding carefully, hoping to get as much stakeholder buy-in as possible, instead of ramming through the most stringent rules possible.

Yet attacks will be inevitable. Even when Democrats have tried to go easy on coal, offering subsidies to help the industry capture more of its emissions, executives still launch wild charges. When the proposed rules come, we in the grassroots need to understand them and prepare to defend them.

This should force a shift in priority. As the New York Times reported last month, these rules will “Far Outweigh Impact of Keystone Pipeline.”

Keystone may be demanding the attention of the environmental community, but that is a sideshow compared to the battle that awaits.

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