Obama’s Last Gasp Climate Proposals

on January 13, 2016 at 3:51 PM

Climate Fantasy

President Barack Obama will not go down as the president who saved us from climate change. He won’t even go down as the president who inspired us to national action on climate change. He’s no Al Gore.

But Obama has continued to take incremental steps to do what he can about the problem, over the objection of a hostile Congress and a largely disinterested voting public. When we’re all breathing through gills, Obama won’t be one of the presidents we blame. That seems to be all he can hope for.

During his final State of the Union address, the President got in some zingers about climate change. Talking Points Memo excerpted the best lines:

“Sixty years ago when the Russians beat us into space, we did not deny Sputnik was up there,” he said, drawing laughs from the audience. “We did not argue about the science or shrink our research and development budget. We built a space program almost overnight, and 12 years later we were walking on the moon.”

“If anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it,” Obama said. “You will be pretty lonely, because he will be debating our military, most of America’s leaders, the majority of the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it is a problem, and intend to solve it.”

At this point, talking with a person who doesn’t think human activity is having an impact on the climate is like talking to a person who thinks smartphones are just a fad. Their kind will die out soon, it’s just unfortunate that so many of them are still in positions of power.

But while Obama can deliver the most ambitious insults, his solutions are much more limited and incremental. Vox pulled out the section from the State of the Union that might actually lead to new laws:

Now we’ve got to accelerate the transition away from dirty energy. Rather than subsidize the past, we should invest in the future — especially in communities that rely on fossil fuels. That’s why I’m going to push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet. That way, we put money back into those communities and put tens of thousands of Americans to work building a 21st century transportation system.

Managing our coal and oil resources is probably (hopefully? effing better be?) a reference to the mining of fuels from federal lands. Federal lands are leased to fossil fuel companies at cheap prices so private industry can extract the resources. That’s a great set up… if you want those resources extracted and if you want to keep fuel costs as low as possible. It’s a poor set up if you want to transition away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy. And it’s a terrible set up if you want renewable energy to be price competitive with fossil fuels.

The simple “green” solution to this is for the government to stop leasing the land. And Obama can do a lot to make the leasing process prohibitively expensive without an act of Congress. The Department of the Interior works for the executive branch, not the legislative branch. Stopping or slowing the leasing process has been “a thing” liberals want to happen.

Last November, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced a bill that would halt all new leasing of coal, oil, gas, oil shale, and tar sands on federal land. It has no chance of passing, of course, but it’s a sign of where activist energy is focusing.

Bernie Sanders might be Al Gore.

When you can only work through executive action, you options become limited. But limiting federal land leasing is an incremental step Obama can take.

Now all that stuff about “subsidizing” this and “putting people to work” on that… sounds like it’s going to cost money. It’s hard to spend money without Congress. And at this point Congress wouldn’t spend money to save their own mothers if Obama was the one who asked them to do it.

But Obama seems intent to do what he can to slow our carbon emissions. And, IRONICALLY, the American public seems tuned out towards his energy proposals, so long as gas stays cheaper than water.

Significant proposals on climate change will have to wait for the next president. Or the president after that. Or the future president who has never seen a polar bear. Or the president after that one who denies that polar bears ever existed.