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Obama Steers Clear on Climate

Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

But the prospects for Obama accomplishing a climate change agenda in this Congress or the next are thin. Cap-and-trade is dead; its successor, the clean energy standard, isn’t going anywhere either; and the preferred route of some global warming activists — a new carbon tax to replace other taxes — doesn’t even appear on the radar screen.

Environmental activists, Senate Democrats and Republicans alike have noticed the White House’s shift, both in softened rhetoric and in using administrative tools to bypass Congress.

Republican critics say the White House has figured out that its policies aren’t popular, particularly in a still-sluggish economy. The White House instead is pushing administrative measures to accomplish the same results via Environmental Protection Agency regulations on power plants and the like. GOP lawmakers suggest the White House is hoping that it can push things under the radar.

“They are still for what the president was for four years ago, and what the president was for three years ago and two years ago, but I don’t believe they are going to talk about it,” Sen. Roy Blunt said.

The Missouri Republican said he expects the administration to slow-walk climate-related regulations and then pursue that route full-bore after the election.

“Everything now is very focused on Election Day,” he said.

“They change the language consistently,” said Sen. James Inhofe, the Senate’s leading climate change skeptic and the ranking member on the Environment and Public Works Committee. “He has got to say things in a subtle way, a quiet way, to try to keep his base satisfied in thinking something still could happen.”

Inhofe said the failed cap-and-trade effort in Obama’s first two years also helped consolidate Republican opposition and snuff out chances for a big climate bill.

“In the Republican Party, it has lost its foothold,” Inhofe said. “People are aware of what it is and the costs.”

Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Barbara Boxer acknowledged the obvious about cap-and-trade or similar grand schemes to deal with the issue. “We don’t have support,” the California Democrat said. “We talk about clean energy, the jobs created, more fuel economy ... instead of getting into an argument” over global warming itself. Indeed, the Senate hasn’t voted on broad climate legislation in almost five years, and when the House passed a cap-and-trade bill in 2009, Democrats were eviscerated back home for their support of the measure.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman said nothing’s likely to get through Congress this year with the possible exception of more green energy tax credits — part of Obama’s “to-do list.”

“Republicans don’t want to support any legislation that would deal with it in a meaningful way,” the New Mexico Democrat said.

Republicans continue to press the White House, saying that the Keystone XL pipeline issue crystallizes Obama’s dilemma between a public focused on jobs and environmental groups worried about the dangers of burning oil from Canada’s tar sands.

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