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The Des Moines Register: Ask candidates about energy, climate: How fast will you act?

Bill Becker • SPECIAL TO THE REGISTER • March 1, 2008

Three of the four remaining presidential candidates have vowed to take strong action on the linked threats of climate change and energy insecurity. Remarkably, this means our next president – Republican or Democrat – will almost certainly end Washington’s eight-year hiatus from meaningful climate action.

Not a moment too soon. The 44th president will inherit the Mother of All Environmental Issues, a global crisis that world leaders have called “our defining moment” and the science community says we must address now. Meantime, the world is running low on oil. Within seven years, the head of Shell Oil predicts, global demand for oil will surpass production.

The good news? All three of the leading candidates – Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain – have substantive climate-change and energy-security platforms. So far, McCain’s is not as strong as Clinton’s or Obama’s, but he clearly understands that America is ready to act.

McCain celebrated his Super Tuesday win with the coveted endorsement from California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger at, of all places, a solar manufacturer. Imagine that – the presumptive Republican nominee and the Republican governor of the nation’s largest state in a grip-and-grin photo-op at a green company.

The bad news? No candidate has yet committed to any timetable for action. A new study released by the Presidential Climate Action Project at the University of Colorado concludes that the president need not wait for Congress. He or she will have plenty of tools to make up for lost time. For example:

– The president can quickly order the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, as the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled it can do. He or she can direct EPA to implement a nationwide carbon cap-and-trade regime, as the Bush administration did for mercury pollution from power plants.

– The president can appoint strong leaders and real climate experts to head the Department of Energy, the EPA, the White House Council on Environmental Quality and other key federal posts.

– The president can restore the integrity of science in federal policy by immediately rescinding Executive Order 13422, which established a corrupt process of political oversight of scientific reports.

– The president can craft a new national energy policy – as Vice President Cheney did in 2001 – but this time with public meetings and the objective of building a new energy economy rather than prolonging America’s dependence on carbon-laden fuels.

Climate protection and energy security are legacy issues writ large, but neither will wait for the next president’s waning days in office. Both must be boldly addressed immediately after inauguration day. Why? Because carbon concentrations in our atmosphere are building at unprecedented rates. The longer we wait, the harder our task becomes.

When the presidential candidates wear various shades of green and all pose for their photo ops alongside wind turbines and solar panels, we should ask them not only what their climate and energy policies will be, but how rapidly they will promise to get them done.

BILL BECKER is the executive director of the Presidential Climate Action Project at the University of Colorado-Denver, a nonpartisan team guided by climate science, security and policy experts that has produced a detailed climate-change action plan for the first 100 days of the next administration. For information, go to www.
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