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President Obama: Be Even Bolder on Global Warming

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There's a terrific new report out by the White House on the economic damage that will be wreaked by global warming, and it is good to see them be so strong about the dangers not only to our environment but to the economy. The actions the Obama administration has taken so far given that the Congress is refusing to act -- including regulating carbon emissions in coal plants, getting the car companies to agree to higher average gas mileage, and issuing a good set of executive orders to help address the issue -- are all good steps forward. But given the truly massive consequences scientists and economists see coming, for the sake of future generations, the seriousness of this issue needs to be addressed with even bigger, bolder ideas right away. As hamstrung as Obama is by Congress, he needs to push much harder for a truly comprehensive executive branch plan of regulatory measures, executive orders, and agency-by-agency reviews.

The place he needs to start is to put a stop to the Keystone pipeline foolishness once and for all. This carbon-maximizing project that allows investors like the Koch brothers to make billions while screwing up the Canadian wilderness so that oil can be sold to China is a disaster in every way. It won't lower oil prices, make America more energy independent, or create very many jobs (almost no permanent ones). It will, however, do massive new damage in terms of global warming when we're already in the deepest long term trouble imaginable. The pipeline makes extracting the tar sands oil profitable; without the pipeline, the economics turn much dicey-er, and the oil might not be extracted. Time to just say no.

Another big place to look is within the federal government itself. Obama has done a good job of starting the process of reviewing what agency could and should be doing, but there is so much work left to be done, and he needs to push a lot harder. One huge example: climate change could be massively eased with serious reforms in how agriculture is done in this country, and USDA needs to be leading the way. Another: the military's carbon footprint could be dramatically improved without impairing our nation's security in any way.

Another smaller example, but a classic case of a modest sized agency that could be playing a big role in helping global warming but is instead exacerbating it: the Export-Import Bank. Over the years, Ex-Im has permitted a coal plant in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef, another in India whose emissions were equal to a fifth of all US coal plants combined, and a massive natural gas project in Papua New Guinea that evaded safety regulations, triggering a fatal landslide that killed 27 people. Now there is a new threat: a proposed amendment to the Export-Import Bank's reauthorization. The Senate is on the verge of passing an amendment introduced by Senators Joe Manchin and Mark Kirk that would once again allow the Export-Import Bank to fund coal plants abroad. We should not be going backward on this issue and go back to having Ex-Im fund carbon-belching projects. The administration should use its leadership role to ensure that we do not let this start happening again, but they are so anxious to keep Ex-Im alive that they might be willing to make this terrible deal. Ex-Im does some good things, but mostly it has become a stream of corporate subsidies to big profitable energy and aerospace companies, and it isn't worth saving if the cost is more damage to the climate.

These are just a few examples. The point is this: President Obama knows how big a deal global warming is. He has done some good things, but he could be doing far more. He should start by saying no to Keystone and making sure his executive branch does everything it possibly could to change course.