So Far, Obama Is Ducking Romney’s Climate-Change Jab

Coral Davenport
September 4, 2012

Mitt Romney threw down the gauntlet on global warming last week by mocking President Obama’s efforts to fight the effects of fossil-fuel pollution.

“President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet,” Romney said in his acceptance speech for the GOP presidential nomination, drawing a laugh from delegates at the Republican National Convention. “My promise is to help you and your family.”

Will Obama strike back this week at the Democratic convention?

In a campaign focused on jobs and the economy, the president has so far been wary of tackling climate change, an issue he addressed head-on in the 2008 campaign. Much has changed since then.

In 2010, his efforts to move a cap-and-trade bill in the Senate failed, and Republicans made “cap-and-trade” a politically toxic catchphrase. The GOP has also waged a political war against Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency, branding new clean-air and climate-related rules as “job-killing regulations.”

In the face of those attacks, the White House has doubled down on its push for investment in wind and solar energy, framing those initiatives as job creators. But Obama has said little on the campaign trail about the impact of climate change or his plans to tackle it—even as the country has been gripped by heat waves, drought, wildfires, and destructive storms.

It appears that Obama intends to play it safe on the issue this week. Interviews with campaign staff and a look at the lineup of convention speakers indicate that climate change won’t be a top-tier issue during the convention.

Until now, it has been conventional wisdom in the Obama campaign that talking about climate change will only open the candidate up for attacks from opponents arguing that he supports increased regulations on industry even as the economy struggles to recover from recession. This has been the concern despite a crop of new polls showing that candidates who support action on climate change are more likely to win over independent voters.

Meanwhile, there’s a growing call from Obama’s base to address the issue. The young voters who helped energize the 2008 campaign say they are disappointed that the president no longer seems to care about climate change.

The top Obama energy official to speak this week will be Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who is expected to highlight the administration’s efforts to build wind and solar installations on federal land and to pursue an “all of the above” energy policy, including controversial new drilling in the Arctic Ocean.

Notably absent from this week’s lineup are the two Cabinet officials most closely linked to fighting climate change, Energy Secretary Steven Chu and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, who led efforts on climate change in 2010, will speak, but he is expected to focus on foreign policy.

There is a chance that Obama will seize on Romney’s climate jab as an opportunity to criticize Republicans as antiscience. “They have running for national office a candidate who doesn’t believe in climate science,” said Carol Browner, Obama’s former chief adviser on energy and climate policy, who will be on hand in Charlotte this week.

Climate change is a major theme among protesters in Charlotte. Protesters interviewed by Convention Daily—many of them young—said they were disappointed that Obama hasn’t been more ambitious on the issue and followed through on his 2008 promise to put a price on carbon emissions.

“Environmental issues are important to me,” said Mariaba Carpano, a 25-year-old who was marching and holding a sign criticizing Bank of America’s loans to utilities and mining companies. “I would like him to realize how climate change is a real, significant issue. He should start imposing regulations in order to protect us.”