Obama’s Message To The World: We Will Act Quickly On Climate Change
It’s going to be busy 2009, says president-elect’s aide • Judges reject ban on navy exercises to protect sealife
Barack Obama, who has spent much of the time since his election closeted with his advisers in Chicago, sent a strong signal yesterday that he plans a decisive break with George Bush on environmental policy once he moves into the White House.
The move was part of a carefully coded series of messages from Obama meant to reassure America and the world about the shape of his administration, which does not assume power until January 20.
Also yesterday, Obama appointed Madeleine Albright, who served as Bill Clinton’s secretary of state, and Jim Leach, a former Republican member of Congress from Iowa who endorsed his campaign, to meet international delegations visiting Washington for the G20 summit at the weekend. Obama will not attend the summit, and aides have repeatedly noted that Bush remains president until January 20.
But while Obama and Joe Biden, the vice president-elect, have been elusive since the election, the Democrat has delivered a number of messages intended to heighten anticipation of changes to come.
In one such signal the president-elect sent Jason Grumet, a policy adviser mentioned for a possible energy post, to an environmental conference in Washington to offer reassurances that there would be swift movement on climate change legislation. “The whole transition team felt it important to be here,” Grumet said. “I think it is going to be a very very busy 2009, and I think we are going to need all of you to be on top of your game.”
However, Grumet did not offer policy specifics, and his optimism was not shared by others at the conference, organised by the consulting group Point Carbon and the Pew Centre on Global Climate Change.
Jeff Bingaman, the New Mexico senator who chairs the Senate’s energy and national resources committee and another possibility for a post in the administration, said it was highly unlikely that Obama could sign into law cap and trade legislation next year. “I think the reality is that it may take more than a year to get it all done,” he said, pointing to 2010.
Grumet’s brief appearance was widely seen as a signal that Obama, who for nearly two years of campaigning warned of a “planet in peril”, was serious about following through on a 30-point environmental agenda that called for creating green jobs, cutting US oil consumption, and moving to renewable sources of energy,
It was the second time in 24 hours that Obama had tried to reassure the world that he wanted a radical departure from Bush’s policy on the environment. Obama has said repeatedly that the global economic crisis remains his top priority, but John Podesta, part of the troika overseeing the transition, said on Tuesday that the environment was at the top of the Democrats’ agenda. “I anticipate him moving very aggressively and very rapidly on the whole question of transforming the energy platform in the United States from high carbon energy to low carbon energy,” he said.
For campaigners, change cannot come soon enough. Yesterday the supreme court rejected environmental protections for whales, dolphins and other marine mammals imposed on US navy sonar training exercises off southern California. Environmental groups had argued that intense sound waves could hurt or even kill some 37 species including sea lions and endangered blue whales by interfering with their ability to communicate and navigate. At one stage Bush intervened by citing the national security necessity of the training.
The hiatus between election and inauguration has led to intense speculation about cabinet appointments and policy breaks with the Bush White House.
Yesterday the Washington Post reported that Obama intended to replace the two top intelligence officials early in his administration. Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, and General Michael Hayden, the CIA chief, are associated with the Bush administration’s most controversial policies, including monitoring the email and phone calls of US citizens without court oversight.
Some of the Obama camp’s efforts to stoke anticipation have been countered with caution – and at times frustration. Yesterday Bingaman warned that Obama urgently needed to appoint his cabinet secretaries. “The idea that the transition team develops policies and then gets new people in place … that is not the way I have seen it in Washington,” he said.