Obama stays the course on climate

In the two weeks since the election, Barack Obama has stayed mostly in Chicago — and except for announcing White House staff appointments — has made few public statements. But the president-elect emerged today to deliver a video address to a gathering of governors and policy experts in Los Angeles. Obama affirmed his commitment to federal cap and trade legislation. He also renewed his campaign promise to put the U.S. back in the center of international negotiations for a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol.

This is welcome news to those who worry that the financial crisis will push climate policy down on the Obama Administration’s list of priorities. It also brightens the picture after Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) left participants at a carbon markets conference in Washington last week discouraged about the prospects for passing a climate bill in 2009.

Bingaman, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said that it would still take more than a year for the House and Senate to sort through the complexity of economy-wide climate legislation. The influential senator also expressed skepticism about the role for offsets in any bill. Bingaman’s views seemed to have been shaped by news accounts of flawed offset projects, rather than the great majority of offset projects that deliver bonafide carbon reductions and lower the cost of reducing emissions.

The timing of U.S. action on climate policy is important in the context of U.N.-sponsored talks that seek to reach an agreement in Copenhagen in December 2009. If the U.S. isn’t ready to make commitments, negotiations among 170 countries could falter. President-elect Obama has taken a positive step forward with his remarks today.

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