Climate Concerns: Is President Obama's Plate Too Full?

The Nobel Peace Prize committee last week cited President Obama's initiative in strengthening the U.S. role in combating climate change as one of the reasons for giving him one of the world's biggest awards.

The president has spoken out strongly for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and in his young presidency, he's taken a number of actions on the environmental front.

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But between lobbying lawmakers and the public on health care reform, trying to help the economy, and working out a future strategy for Afghanistan, the question is whether the administration will have enough political capital left to tackle the issue of climate change.

Some policy analysts say more has been done on the environmental front in the last nine months than in the past several years combined.

The administration has "taken important steps already," said Michael A. Levi, senior fellow for energy and the environment at the Council on Foreign Relations and a proponent of climate change legislation. "It clearly has not been priority number one, but it's something they've been engaged in."

The House passed its version of a climate bill in June, and Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., have introduced a bill in the Senate that would require greenhouse gas emissions be cut by 20 percent by 2020. Additionally, the Obama administration introduced new fuel efficiency and mileage standards in May, the toughest ever implemented for the United States.

Earlier this month, Obama signed an executive order to set emissions targets for federal agencies. He has also called for investments in green projects through the stimulus package and held talks with Chinese leaders to discuss climate change policy.

"They've done in nine months more than eight years, and it's just the beginning because many of the programs have to be implemented... and many are being designed," said Maggie L. Fox, chief executive and president of The Alliance for Climate Protection, a nonprofit environmental group. "It's really a difference of light and dark."

The administration has been active mainly on three fronts, said Michael B. Gerrard, director of the Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University Law School.

"They are advocating the enactment of legislation by Congress. Second, they are proceeding with EPA regulation of greenhouse gases under the existing laws, especially the Clean Air Act. And third, they are actively engaged in international discussions," Gerrard said.

Even though the president has taken what many say are likely to be important steps on the climate change front, he's likely to face mounting pressure in the coming months, especially as delegates prepare to convene in Copenhagen in December for the United Nations climate change conference.

Climate Change Challenges

For one, while Obama has called it a priority to control greenhouse gases, there is a great deal of uncertainty about an international agreement and what that might entail.

"There's still a lot that needs to be resolved and it's very fluid right now," said Levi, who supports climate change legislation.

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