Obama: Audacity of a Climate Legacy?

English: Seal of the President of the United S...
Seal of the President of the United States (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is not a lot of mystery around what energy and environment policy would look like if Mitt Romney and the Republicans prevail in November. It will be strong on hydrocarbons and some environmental regulations would be up for revision. Romney, who surrounded himself by oil men such as Harold Hamm , seems keen on a robust oil patch.

Should President Barack Obama win reelection, however, there are some big question marks on how he would deal with a second shot at dealing with the big issues the United States faces on energy, climate and the environment. This is a subject of some conjecture from a number of commentators of late. They are speculating that Obama, free from the constraints of another election campaign, might want to make climate change a big foreign policy issue where he could leave his mark.

“It’s clear that Obama sees climate as a legacy issue, something that could improve the world in an enduring way,” wrote David Roberts in a recent post at Grist.org.

Or as Obama himself told Rolling Stone (and thanks to Mr. Roberts for reminding me) earlier this year: “I suspect that over the next six months, this is going to be a debate that will become part of the campaign, and I will be very clear in voicing my belief that we’re going to have to take further steps to deal with climate change in a serious way. “

Except that it has not been much of a debate so far in the campaign. Between the attacks on Romney and defending a decidedly weak economy, Obama has not placed environmental issues front and center, perhaps sensing it would be an easy target for Republicans with so many still worried about the lack of jobs.

Nevertheless, today’s extreme weather could impact on public opinion in the campaign and beyond. The drought gripping nearly two-thirds of the country looks stubborn – it promises to drive up food costs and send Washington’s farm insurance program deep into the red. Polls show Americans do worry about climate change and a prolonged drought might give Obama coverage in the court of public opinion.

So perhaps growing concern about climate could be used as a springboard for action in another Obama presidency. What he would do will depend on the make up of Congress, which still might have strong Republican ownership, especially in the House. Obama might look to forge deals internationally, but treaties still need to be ratified in Congress.

Interestingly, Obama will also face a menu of traditional energy issues. The United States finds itself in a new age energy abundance and every president since Richard Nixon (let alone Jimmy Carter!) would have loved to have been in such a place. The United States remains a big net oil importer but its energy wealth is growing at home with the boom in oil and gas shale plays. And in the region, energy security is further enhanced with prospects of stronger production from Canada and Brazil.

After next January the White House will have to reconsider the Canada to Texas, Keystone oil pipeline, more drilling in the Arctic and even whether to approve limited oil and gas exports. There is such as abundance of oil and gas, some groups are now agitating for the right to export the bounty to foreign shores.

So the Obama will have to balance the energy boom, while fighting off criticism from the left that he he is encouraging the wrong industry. At the same time he may want to tackle climate and greenhouse emissions in a big way. How will he juggle it all? Make a big push for what he wants –climate change policy — while making deals with the opposition on the energy front?

Perhaps, but it’s still long way from November, and it may be none of the above, should Romney prove victorious.






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