White House spokesman Jay Carney Jan. 23 deflated environmentalists’ hope of a major federal program to counter climate change, by declaring that the “we have no intention of proposing a carbon tax.”
Carney’s statement is a letdown for progressive climate-control advocates, who say the federal government has the regulatory and taxing power to try to affect the globe’s temperature by curbing the release of carbon dioxide from cars, houses, factories, power plants.
On Jan 9, Vermont’s Sen. Bernie Saunders introduced a bill that would levy a tax on companies that generate carbon dioxide. The bill is unlikely to pass, partly because economists argue it would further burden the nation’s slow growing economy.
Skeptics say human produced carbon dioxide plays a subordinate role in global climate, but the climate control activists say unregulated carbon dioxide is decisively increasing the world’s temperature by trapping more solar heat in the world’s atmosphere.
These groups’ hopes were spiked by President Barack Obama’s Jan. 21 inaugural speech.
“We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations,” he claimed. “Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms,” he claimed.
The climate control language in the speech surprised and pleased climate activists, who felt their issue was being downplayed during the 2012 election.
In the days since the speech, administration officials have downplayed Obama’s inauguration statement and the chances of a major government initiative.
“I think the President has long supported congressional action on climate change,” Carney said Jan. 22. But “he looks at [climate control] in a more holistic way, and he will move forward in implementing some of the [regulatory and spending] actions that he took in the first term,” he said.
But Obama also suggested that he would limit his climate control priorities to those that might help the economy, which has created relatively few jobs since his first inauguration in 2009, despite deficit spending of almost $6 trillion.
“The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult … We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries, we must claim its promise,” Obama said, shortly after saying inaction would “betray our children and future generations,”
By developing new energy sources, he claimed, “that’s how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure — our forests and waterways, our crop lands and snow-capped peaks … how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God.”
Carney pushes the same message.
“There are huge opportunities there in alternative energy … [it] is going to be a huge part of a 21st century global economy … we [should] dominate those fields of endeavor and we create the jobs associated with those industries here in America,” he said Jan. 22.
Obama’s far-reaching inauguration claims about climate control worried some energy companies, whose new fracking technology is extracting huge quantities of low-carbon natural gas from deep underground. They’re producing so much gas that the price has plunged, which allows electricity generation, trucking and manufacturing companies to reduce their use of coal, diesel and gasoline in favor of cleaner-burning natural gas.
However, the declining price of natural gas is also a threat to the new wave of green-tech companies backed by Obama during his first term. Without more subsidies and favorable regulation, some green-tech companies may go under if they can’t produce power as cheaply as the gas fracking companies.
The next demonstration of the administration’s balancing act between economic growth and climate control is the pending decision on whether to approve the Keystone pipeline, which would pump carbon-intensive oil from Canada to refineries in Texas.
Prior to the election, Obama delayed approval of the pipeline. That decision prompted cheers from environmentalists, but disappointment from the workers — and the companies — who would have built the pipeline and processed the oil.
However, Obama will soon face the postponed decision again.
For the moment, White House officials insist the decision to approve or halt the pipeline will be decided by State Department officials.
“The State Department is conducting its assessment, as appropriate and as has been standard over the years, on behalf of the federal government, and I don’t want to get ahead of that process,” Carney said Jan. 22. “When the State Department has something to move forward on, we’ll obviously address that issue when it does.”