The White House will announce soon whether President Obama will attend the climate change meetings in Copenhagen, a long anticipated decision that will signal how much effort and political capital the United States wants to spend on promising to curb carbon emissions.
As world leaders and climate experts have criticized a lack of action in Washington in the leadup to the talks, the White House is trumpeting more action in the 10 months since Obama took office than the world saw under President George W. Bush.
When questioned about the delay, White House officials pushed back.
“We go into Copenhagen with a very, very strong hand – if we have an outline that’s helpful, but we go in with 10 months of unprecedented leadership on these issues,” a senior administration official told reporters in a briefing today.“We have done more than anyone could have ever expected us to do in a relatively short time frame,” the official said. “We have passed a house bill we have used our executive and our regulatory authorities to chart a very different course when it comes to energy use, efficiency, we’re making unprecedented investments. I am very very pleased with the hand that we have going into Copenhagen.”
The administration is cognizant of what’s passed the House and is closely monitoring the Senate negotiations. The submission at Copenhagen will “reflect” those elements, another official said.
Three senior administration officials, speaking on a condition of anonymity to freely discuss the process, detailed for reporters the coming decision on Copenhagen and how Obama has been moving the issue forward.
They said Obama views it as a synergy between what the U.S. is doing at home and what the president is pushing abroad.
An official said Obama is talking about climate change in each of his bilateral meetings with world leaders, with those discussions fitting “prominently into the agenda.”
“He’s turning around an ocean liner and he has done an extraordinary amount to turn that ocean liner around,” another official said, adding there has been “unprecedented domestic action” and U.S. engagement that serves to energize the world.
“We’re in a position to make some progress,” the official said.
The officials said the climate change legislation is being massaged by Sens. John Kerry (D-MA), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and they expect floor debate sometime in the spring.
“The good news is spring is coming earlier and earlier [thanks] to climate change,” an official said.
The officials said they were glad the legislation has cleared the hurdles of the Senate’s Environment and Energy committees, but noted there are three more committees to go – Agriculture, Commerce and Finance.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid also has promised to let the measure get a detailed analysis from the Environmental Protection Agency, which the officials said could take five weeks.
One official said the tone and discussions among senators has changed in last six to eight weeks to be more confident a bill will pass.
The White House is “very encouraged” by the bipartisan talks among Kerry, Lieberman and Graham who are crafting “what will become a leadership bill for debate in the new year.”
Asked why it hasn’t happened yet, the officials said the health care debate has affected the pace.
“We would have obviously preferred that health care be done a long time ago and that we be in the energy debate but that isn’t what happened,” an official said.
Obama’s “Green Cabinet” has been meeting with two dozen senators on the Hill over the last few months.
“We’ll be up there as often as we need to be,” an official said.