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Bill Becker's articles

A Climate “Plan B” for Team Obama, Now That Congress Has Failed

Five-point plan proposed to inform hints of executive action that are in the wind

Aug 5, 2010

(Today the Presidential Climate Action Project is releasing a new report called Plan B: Near-Term Presidential Actions for Energy and Environmental Leadership. Below, PCAP Executive Director Bill Becker explains.)

Congress’s failure to act on global climate change was one of the reasons the diplomatic atmosphere was so chilly last year in Copenhagen.

Congress has chilled the atmosphere again, four months before the international community meets in Cancun to resume its marathon crawl to a global climate treaty. From Bonn, where nations were attending five days of pre-Cancun negotiations this week, the Associated Press reported the Senate’s failure to act on a climate bill has “deepened the distrust among poor countries about the intentions of the United States and other industrial countries” to cut their emissions.

The response from members of the Obama team has been: a) the president is not backing off his commitment to legislation or a 17 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions; and b) there is more than one way to skin this cat. Hints of executive action are in the wind.

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Will Obama Become the First Environmental President of the 21st Century?

Multiple crises offer opportunity for solutions with a higher purpose

Jun 11, 2010

It seems insensitive to talk about silver linings in the middle of the life-killing oil spill in the Gulf, but there are some we should recognize and act upon now.

There’s hope that the spill is proving the folly extracting every last drop of a finite resource by invading ever more difficult and sensitive places. The past safety record of offshore drilling, cited by President Obama when he announced he was opening up more ocean to oil companies, means nothing when those companies are moving into uncharted waters, literally speaking.

As BP has tried each new trick to stop the hemorrhage on the ocean floor, it has made clear these techniques have never been attempted at that depth. It is a public admission that one of the world’s largest oil companies, using the industry’s most advanced extraction technologies, doesn’t have the experience or tools to drill safely in these new places.

As Bill McKibben points out, the oil spill is not so much President Obama’s Katrina as his 9-11, a tragedy with the potential to rally us around something we must do – in this case, the rapid transition to all those domestic energy resources that don’t have to be blasted, drilled, dug up and burned because they are there for the harnessing – sun, wind, tides, geothermal and biomass.

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When Corporations Rule Federal Agencies

The fatal disasters at the Upper Big Branch Mine and Deepwater Horizon are fresh evidence the Bush-Cheney corporate culture continues in some federal agencies charged with overseeing industry. President Obama needs to change that culture fast.

Formal investigations are underway, but it appears that lax federal oversight and enforcement, combined with corporate corner-cutting and greed, are implicated in both of the energy industry tragedies — the worst coal mine disaster in 40 years and the worst oil spill in U.S. history. Massey Energy's mine and BP's drilling ship in the Gulf were subject to federal oversight. In both cases, oversight failed.

Some barriers to federal oversight are systemic. Congressional hearings after the Massey disaster, for example, found that mining companies often abuse the appeals process when federal inspectors find safety violations. About 16,000 violations currently are being appealed, representing $195 million in unpaid fines. It takes more than a year to resolve an appeal these days.

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Putting the President's Power Tools to Use

100+ Statutory Delegations of Authority to Address Energy and Climate

Feb 17, 2010

On Capitol Hill, the ship of state is so bereft of rudder and sail that the crew is jumping overboard. The latest to abandon ship is Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana, who minced no words about the dysfunctional Congress he is choosing to leave.

Forget for a moment about health care and financial reform. On national energy and environmental issues, which have been stalled in the congressional queue, we have a critical national security threat, a danger to public health and welfare, and national policy that encourages American families to inadvertently fund terrorists.

Those are among the reasons the paralyzing partisanship on Capitol Hill is so serious a dereliction of duty.

So what can the president of the United States do? Quite a lot if he’s willing to use the executive powers he’s been given by the Constitution, the courts and past Congresses.

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Obama’s Rope-Line Debate on Coal

If you suddenly came face to face with President Barack Obama, what would you say?

Gillian Caldwell found herself in that position earlier this month when she encountered the president on a rope-line. Caldwell — the leader of the climate-action group 1Sky — decided to debate the president over his position on coal.

As she shook Obama’s hand, Caldwell appealed to him to stop supporting federal investments in “clean coal” and to put the money instead into renewable energy. To his credit, Obama stopped long enough to engage. Here are excerpts of their exchange:

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Obama 2.0: Tougher and Ready to Change the Game?

Obama 1.0 Played Washington's Game; Obama 2.0 Must Prove He Can Change It

Feb 2, 2010

The second year of the Obama Era is young, but we may be seeing the emergence of Obama 2.0 — a president willing to do battle against the dark forces of stasis and negativity.

Obama 1.0 didn’t want to get ahead of Congress. Obama 2.0 appears ready to go head-to-head with Democrats who have the numbers to lead but lack the discipline, and Republicans whose only big idea is to make Democrats fail — a job that has turned out to be pretty easy so far.

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After Copenhagen, Now What?

If Governments Won't Act, Businesses, Consumers & Communities Must Step Up

Dec 27, 2009

After two weeks observing the climate negotiations in Copenhagen, I’ve taken my time reacting to the outcome. There has been a great deal to digest. But as the dust begins to settle, it’s clear Copenhagen has spawned two principal conversations around the world.

The first is a postmortem on what happened, or didn’t happen, at COP15, the long-anticipated United Nations 15th Conference of the Parties.

The second conversation is asking, “What now?”

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Accepting Responsibility for a Role in Climate Change

'Blissfully Ignorant' or Morally Responsible?

Dec 13, 2009

Imagine you’re a well-to-do person attending a dinner of your peers. The food is top-rate and there’s plenty of it. Course after course is laid upon the table.

A group of less-advantaged people has been watching from the sidelines. When the dinner is done, you invite them to join you at the table. After the restaurant staff has served coffee, the bill comes. You and your rich peers insist that everyone now at the table must share in paying the entire bill.

If that seems unfair, then you have just understood the position of the delegates from emerging economies, now negotiating with their wealthier colleagues from the North over a climate deal at Copenhagen.

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Congressional Climate Deniers Caucus Heads for Copenhagen

Time for Obama to Man Up on Climate Change

Dec 10, 2009

With the announcement that a delegation from the Congressional Republican Flat Earth Caucus will show up to embarrass President Obama in Copenhagen next week, I hope the White House finally decides to man up on climate change.

What "manning up" means in the present context is that the Obama administration must get serious about using its regulatory authority to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions well below the levels being considered on Capitol Hill.

So far, Obama has been scrupulous in not “getting out ahead” of Congress on climate change.

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Road to Copenhagen: Money-Changers in Democracy’s Temple

There is a scene in the New Testament where Jesus throws the money-changers out of the temple. We could use some of that in the halls of Congress.

While the U.S. Capitol is not the National Cathedral, members of Congress are the custodians of a sacred trust: to protect the vitality and integrity of the extraordinary experiment the founders began.

For example, the debate about climate change isn’t just about polar bears and energy prices. It’s about whether a free people will be a responsible people, a capitalist economy will be a caring economy and a democracy will protect the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for everyone, even those not yet born.

Some of this sacred trust is codified in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Some is unwritten and implied. And although the Constitution dictates that we keep government and religion separate, there are places in public policy where secular values and moral values overlap. Stewardship of nature and its resources — called “creation care” in religious circles — is one of those places.

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