Obama’s Global Warming Long Game

Lizza describes the president’s climate agenda as evidence of his “left conservatism”:

It’s hardly unheard of for a President to be cautious about pushing social change, and it would be more surprising if a President didn’t move in the direction of shifting public opinion. Obama and his aides like to see him as someone who plays a long game. They sometimes suggest that his movement on these issues is all part of a grand plan. More likely, Obama is what might be called a “left conservative,” a phrase that Norman Mailer briefly popularized when he ran for mayor of New York, in 1969. Obama obviously shares the outlook of the left on these cultural issues, but he’s temperamentally cautious and rarely believes that it’s worth his effort to act until his own liberal base has moved the country along with it. And, even then, he sees his job as moderating the passions of the activists.

But this interaction between Obama and an activist left that is slowly pushing the country in its direction—especially among younger Americans—is becoming the main subplot of the Obama years. While people like  [environmental lawyer] James Milkey push for change at the bottom, they are increasingly finding an ally at the top.

Bouie credits Republicans for forcing the EPA’s hand. He recalls how they killed climate legislation in 2009:

It’s not that EPA action wasn’t possible, but that the administration wanted legislation and would make key concessions to get it. In the absence of a law, however, the White House was prepared to act alone. “If Republicans didn’t respond to the proposed deals,” wrote The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza, “the White House could push them to the table by making a threat through the Environmental Protection Agency, which had recently been granted power to regulate carbon, just as it regulates many other air pollutants.”

With a little cooperation, Republicans could have won a better outcome for their priorities. They could have exempted coal from more stringent spectrum of regulations, enriched their constituencies with new subsidies and benefits, and diluted a key Democratic priority. Instead, they’ll now pay a steep substantive price for their obstruction, in the form of rules that are tougher—and more liberal—than anything that could have passed Congress.

Brentin Mock focuses on the racial justice angle of the new EPA rules:

President Obama hit on carbon pollution impacts on black and Latino kids within the first couple minutes of his talk with reporters yesterday, in a press call hosted by the American Lung Association. “The health issues that we’re talking about hit some communities particularly hard,” he said. “African-American children are twice as likely to be hospitalized for asthma, four times as likely to die from asthma. Latinos are 30 percent more likely to be hospitalized for asthma. So these proposed standards will help us meet that challenge head on.”

The fact that the EPA and Obama are holding up asthmatic kids of color as the avatar for the new carbon regime testifies to how much environmental-justice advocates have shaped this climate conversation over the past few years.

And Ben Adler previews the political battle to come:

Cleaner air, or less global warming, benefits everyone. But it benefits most people only marginally, and invisibly. So, as with many other types of industry regulation, support may be a mile wide and an inch deep. The costs, unlike the benefits, are heavily concentrated. Someone who works for a coal company, or a related industry, or in a community with a large coal presence, may see a direct threat to her livelihood and be much more motivated to call her congress member or show up at a town hall to express her intense opposition.

That’s why the coal industry will focus its efforts in the states that are most dependent on coal for their electricity, or that have it in the ground. “We’ve been seeking to educate and inform consumers through some of our grassroots activities in key coal and coal-consuming states,” says Nancy Gravatt, communications director for the National Mining Association, a trade organization for mining companies. There are 19 states across the Midwest, Appalachia, and the Rocky Mountains that get more than half of their electricity from coal. That’s where NMA will focus. And in Upper Midwestern states like Ohio, Minnesota, and Illinois, the group will argue that an increase in electricity costs would damage the manufacturing economy.