In a matter of two weeks Hurricane Sandy and the reelection of President Barack Obama mean that climate change is going to return to the political arena.
Obama talked about his Green energy initiative throughout the election without talking about climate change directly. That’s because he needed coal miners in Pennsylvania and Virginia to win Tuesday.
Since no one in the industry nor the administration had been able to articulate a coal policy based on developing new coal carbon sequestration technology, Democrats ignored it. But Trout Unlimited CEO Chris Wood, who had joined together with Idaho Sen. Jim Risch to forge an Idaho roadless forest lands agreement, believes there is a path forward on addressing climate change that can bring people from both parties together.
He has identified $16 billion in federal funding in both the departments of interior and the Agriculture that could be focused on a program to help fish, wildlife, communities and the landscape adapt to the changes caused by climate change. These are jobs programs, Wood said.
“There’s no policy right now in relation to climate change to recover the natural resilience of our ecosystems,” Wood said.
There are collaborative projects like the Clearwater Initiative, sponsored by Idaho Republican Sen. Mike Crapo, which combine forest health, logging and watershed restoration, which also create jobs. But there has not been an overriding focus on adaptation that can help break the logjam on climate, Wood said.
“We got high centered on the causes of climate change,” Wood said. “But there are direct actions the administration can take to address the effects of climate change.”
The divisions between the House and the Senate will prevent a major shift in climate policy overnight. But Obama does have the power with the Environmental Protection Agency to put in place regulations that will contribute to the market’s rejection of coal for natural gas and renewable fuels for electrical generation.
Laws like the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act, which led to dramatic reductions in timber harvests and constraints on farming, ranching and mining, are caught in the polarized divide in Congress and unlikely to change.
“If they are going to make a major change they are going to have to do something legislatively or something a lot less dramatic if they do administratively,” said Jim Caswell, of Emmett, a former national forest supervisor and director of the Bureau of Land Management in the Bush administration.
Nationally, the divisions on these issues have narrowed, said Greg Schildwachter, former policy advisor in the Bush White House Council on Environmental Quality and the Idaho Office of Species Conservation. And resource issues are not politically a high priority, which has allows people on both sides of the issue to find common approaches.
“It helps that the partisan relevance of the conservation issue has fallen off,” he said.
Idaho Conservation League Director Rick Johnson is hopeful that the changes that have come in Congress, and Obama’s reelection may lead to some modest action in Congress.
“My belief is that empowers moderates,” Johnson said.
He has worked with Idaho Republican Rep. Mike Simpson on a wilderness bill in the Boulder-White Clouds. He expects eventually some of the bills that are currently bottled up like Simpson’s will emerge.
“I think there’s an opening for a little stretch of leadership,” he said.
Bill Arthur, the Sierra Club’s political director in Seattle meet with Obama at a fundraiser earlier this year.
“He talked with authority and conviction about how to move America and the world off of fossil fuel,” Arthur said.
But Obama is going to have other priorities out of the gate.
“It’s clearly going to be taxes and the economy that drive the first four months,” Arthur said.