In a 7,000-word essay published in the most recent issue of Rolling Stone magazine with the headline “Climate of Denial,” former Vice President Al Gore blasts President Obama for not using his “bully pulpit to make the case for bold action on climate change.”
Unfortunately for Gore, it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Obama’s climate-change regulations appear to be on a collision course with his reelection campaign.
Absent comprehensive global-warming legislation in Congress, the administration has turned to the Environmental Protection Agency as evidence that Obama is still fighting climate change. The agency is gearing up to draft rules regulating greenhouse gases that cause climate change. It will issue draft rules for power plants by September 30 and December for oil and gas refineries. According to a timeline EPA announced in December, final rules for power plants will come in May 2012. The final standards for oil and gas companies are scheduled to come in the all-important month of November 2012.
The agency has already delayed the proposal of the draft rules for power plants by two months, but EPA insisted in holding to its May 2012 deadline. It remains to be seen whether the agency will push that date back. Lobbyists on both sides speculate that Obama – by way of EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson -- could punt the final rules until after the November election.
One thing seems certain: Obama will not be talking up climate science or urging strong action on climate change as long as he is fighting to keep his job and facing attacks from the right for EPA’s climate regulations.
To be sure, he isn’t backing down from the rules. There is very little chance Republicans will succeed in abolishing the rules altogether. But Obama is not going out of his way to explicitly defend them. It’s a tacit difference, but one that matters going into his reelection campaign. He supports Jackson’s efforts, but he isn’t standing by her side to defend them.
Several Democrats up for reelection in 2012 hail from from energy-intensive states that happen to be presidential battlegrounds, like Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Claire McCaskill of Missouri, and they aren't going to want Obama to stick his neck out to defend the regulations.
Gore acknowledges the political reality clouding the climate-change fight, but he fails to mention Obama’s tightrope walk on climate regulations.
“Many political advisers assume that a president has to deal with the world of politics as he finds it, and that it is unwise to risk political capital on an effort to actually lead the country toward a new understanding of the real threats and real opportunities we face. Concentrate on the politics of re-election, they say. Don't take chances,” Gore writes.
He continues: “All that might be completely understandable and make perfect sense in a world where the climate crisis wasn't ‘real.’ Those of us who support and admire President Obama understand how difficult the politics of this issue are in the context of the massive opposition to doing anything at all — or even to recognizing that there is a crisis.”
He writes that Obama shouldn’t follow the advice of political advisers because he “has reality on his side. The scientific consensus is far stronger today than at any time in the past.”
That reality of climate science has done little to dissuade the growing number of conservatives -- including most of the GOP’s presidential hopefuls -- from proclaiming doubts about climate change. The impetus for that trend is due to a variety of factors largely out of Obama’s control, such as the infamous “ClimateGate” e-mails from November 2009 and the rise of the tea party (factors Gore fails to emphasize in his essay.)
Science does not carry the same weight in politics as it does in academia. And unfortunately for the climate and environmental movement, Gore’s words – even 7,000 of them – will likely do little to move the needle on Obama’s climate policy, at least between now and November 2012.