Obama Urged to Intensify Push for Climate Measure

By Juliet Eilperin and Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, October 12, 2009

President Obama is coming under renewed pressure internationally and in the United States to throw his weight behind climate-change legislation, which advocates fear has suffered in light of the president's sweeping domestic agenda.

The Nobel committee's announcement Friday that Obama won the Peace Prize was a fresh reminder that much of the world expects him to lead the way toward a global climate pact. The committee cited his "more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges."

And in Washington, advocates are clamoring for more evidence that Obama will make good on his campaign promise to impose the first-ever national cap on greenhouse gases. Last week, the leading author of Senate climate legislation sought personal assurances from Obama during an Oval Office meeting, saying he wanted to "hear it from him directly" as he pushed ahead.

Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) told Obama he needs to direct his administration to be more aggressive in order to get Congress to take steps to limit pollution that contributes to global warming. But Kerry emerged from the meeting saying Obama had pledged closer coordination between the White House and its congressional allies on the issue.

"The bottom line is there's no way to negotiate a bill like this without the involvement of the administration that they've promised -- and they've been producing," Kerry said in an interview. "If we're going to talk about oil and gas, we need to know what the administration will sign off on."

Obama aides say the fears are unfounded, part of what senior adviser David Axelrod called "tempests and . . . kerfuffles" about the process of lawmaking that bear little relation to the actual progress they are making toward historic new laws aimed at preventing environmental degradation.

Asked to respond to concerns about the level of engagement by the White House, aides compiled the following statistics: Administration officials have met on the topic with more than half of the senators, they said. There have been calls with 100 mayors in 17 states and more than 50 energy-related events in 24 states. Officials have reached out to "hundreds" of energy stakeholders and local lawmakers, aides said.

"Our energy team is deeply, deeply involved in working with the appropriate members of Congress and their staffs. They've done a lot of work up there," Axelrod said. "This is an issue of extraordinary importance. I understand the advocates on the issue would like us to have acted by now. The president and others feel this should have been dealt with years ago."

White House officials, including energy and climate czar Carol M. Browner, Axelrod and National Economic Council Director Lawrence H. Summers, have made presentations to a group of Democrats who meet regularly each week in the Capitol to discuss climate-change legislation. And last week, Todd Stern, U.S. special envoy for climate change, met with several key senators to discuss the bill, identifying how specific provisions would affect the prospects for a global pact.

A group of centrist Democrats from manufacturing states met Thursday with Browner. One of them, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), said the administration had "been helpful" but was still working on how to protect energy-intensive and trade-exposed industries. "The bill's not there yet," he said.

But while the White House has touted the need for energy and climate legislation in several events -- including one on Wednesday with business leaders and another with veterans last month -- it has not delved deeply into the detailed work of fashioning legislation.

Several veteran energy and environmental experts said the approach differs sharply from how Senate Democrats and a Republican White House handled the Clean Air Act amendments of 1990, a major legislative overhaul in which the White House and Environmental Protection Agency officials provided their own legislative blueprint and negotiated for weeks with a bipartisan group of senators in then-Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell's office.

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