5 things greens still want from Obama

5 things greens still want from Obama
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Environmentalists are as tough on President Obama as industry when it comes to energy and climate change policy, and that pressure will only intensify as he enters the final two years of his presidency.

Obama may have landmark proposals to slash carbon emissions from existing and new power plants in the cooker, but that doesn’t mean his legacy as the leading president on environmental policy is chiseled in stone.


“Nixon is still giving him a run for his money,” said Jamie Henn, co-founder and communications director of the climate group 350.org. “The president’s climate change legacy is still very much up for grabs.”

And any step Obama takes on climate change in his final years in office is going to be met with fierce, unbridled hostility from a newly emboldened GOP riding high on their Senate takeover.

Still, if recent events are any indication, Obama isn’t about to lay down and let Republicans walk over him. Despite voters giving the GOP control of Congress, Obama has sped up his actions on climate change rather than taking it easy.

Barely one week after the election, Obama inked a deal with China to put a cap on greenhouse gas emissions post-2020. Days later, he pledged $3 billion from the U.S. to a United Nations climate fund aimed at helping poor nations mitigate and adapt to climate change impacts.

Soon after that, Obama took action at home, announcing a series of new executive actions to help cities, states and Native American tribes build up resilience to drought, severe storms, and other climate-related events.

To top off November, the administration unveiled a long-delayed proposal to revamp the air quality standards for ground-level ozone, a smog-causing pollutant.

Greens though aren’t satisfied. Here are five actions environmentalists expect Obama to follow through on before he makes his exit.


1. Defend and protect climate rule

Green groups and opponents alike will admit Obama has taken historic steps to fight climate change, but a core piece of his environmental legacy has yet to be finalized: Carbon pollution standards on existing power plants.

Probably more than anything else, the environmental community desperately wants to see the president’s landmark climate rule aimed at cutting carbon dioxide emissions from the country’s fleet of existing power plants cross the finish line.

“The remainder of Obama’s term will be playing defense as much as offense,” Henn said. “He’s in a tough position with Congress but it’s a good position to be in: defending a rule that will protect the health of all Americans.”

Henn said he thinks the president does “better under pressure” and need to get “feisty.”  

Franz Matzner, associate director of government affairs for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said protecting the president’s carbon pollution standards, and newly proposed smog rule will be critical.

“We want to ensure that Sen. [Mitch] McConnell’s (R-Ky.) big polluter agenda doesn’t happen,” Matzner said, referencing McConnell’s pledge to block the president’s regulation on power-plant pollution through riders on spending bills.

“We want to make sure that the president is able to deliver the Clean Power Plan (or carbon rule) on time and to make it as strong as possible,” Matzner added.


2. Reject Keystone XL

One of the strongest actions Obama could take to cement his commitment to fighting global warming, greens say, is killing the controversial Canada-to-Texas oil pipeline.

“The president will do himself a favor by taking a few more bold steps like rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline,” Henn said.

If his recent comments are any hint, Obama is tired of being pushed by proponents of the pipeline to make a quick decision.

Legislation in the Senate to approve the pipeline fell one vote short of reaching the president’s desk in the lame duck.

In the runup to the vote, Obama made his position as crystal clear as possible, saying he intended to allow the State Department to finish its review.

“I’ve been clear in the past … and my position hasn’t changed, that this is a process that is supposed to be followed,” he said.  


3. Say no to more drilling

Greens took comfort in the “feisty” Obama that came out during the latest Keystone push, with many confident he would have vetoed the legislation.

A number of groups argue that Obama should “start saying no” more, not only to Keystone, but to opening up more waters to oil and gas drilling.

Of primary concern is the Interior’s current consideration of its next five-year lease plan for 2017-2022. The department appears to be leaning toward opening the Atlantic to offshore drilling for the first time in nearly 30 years. There is also the strong possibility of Arctic waters being open to more oil and gas exploration and development.


4. Regulate methane emissions

The administration has yet to propose, and may choose to bypass, regulating methane emissions from oil and gas operations. A coalition of green groups are urging Obama to “swiftly” take action on curbing methane emissions, a potent greenhouse gas, from industrial sources.

Environmentalists argue that methane is 80 times more potent as an earth-warming gas than carbon dioxide during a 20-year timeframe.


5. Be a ‘real player’ in the Paris talks

Obama’s historic climate deal with China surprised many and left environmentalists eager for more.

The agreement got China to set a target to cap emissions for the first time ever, but there is still a lot of work to do ahead of the United Nations climate change convention in Paris next year where nearly 180 nations are supposed to sign a global accord to slash emissions.

Greens would like to see a bigger U.S. pledge to the climate fund for poor nations than the $3 billion Obama just announced. Another way to help other countries, environmentalists said, is to end fossil fuel subsidies.