It's All Politics
10:06 pm
Wed May 22, 2013

Obama Group's Climate Push Puts President Under Scrutiny

Originally published on Fri May 24, 2013 7:54 am

Organizing for Action — a group that formed out of President Obama's re-election campaign — has posted five tweets in the past week about climate change using the @BarackObama Twitter account.

OFA's mission is to promote the president's agenda on a wide range of issues, from guns to immigration. But now that it's focused on global warming, there's some tension with the agenda inside the administration.

This week, Organizing for Action unveiled a website urging supporters to "Call Out the Climate Change Deniers." The group recently produced a video highlighting Republicans who question the science of climate change — including House Speaker John Boehner.

"Every time we exhale, we exhale carbon dioxide," Boehner says in the montage. "Every cow in the world, you know, when they do what they do, you've got more carbon dioxide."

For Obama's supporters, this campaign helps create an us-and-them, black-and-white standoff. On one side, Obama and the scientific community who conclude man-made climate change is real. On the other, members of Congress who are unconvinced.

"The end goal here is obviously to spur action behind climate," says Ben LaBolt, a former White House spokesman who consults with Organizing for Action. "Few issues have motivated supporters to join Organizing for Action like climate change."

That's where things get complicated. While OFA's mission is to advance the president's agenda, some environmentalists are frustrated with that agenda when it comes to climate change.

For example, protesters have marched against the Keystone XL pipeline for more than a year — including a demonstration that brought thousands to the White House.

Last week, Peter Bowe, the head of a Baltimore dredging company, testified in support of the pipeline, telling a congressional committee it's all about jobs.

He said it's "not the construction jobs from the pipeline itself, but ongoing jobs every year for decades to come — all related to the production of oil from the Alberta oil sands deposits."

Obama spoke last Friday at that dredging company in Baltimore.

"You guys are an example of what we can do to make America a magnet for good jobs," he said. "After all, y'all know a thing or two about growing the economy."

The White House insists the president's speech had nothing to do with Keystone. But the situation shows how awkward this is for Obama, caught between protecting the environment and trying to create jobs.

Organizing for Action's global warming campaign does not extend to this key environmental debate of the day.

"Ultimately, the president's position on Keystone has been to let the State Department review process play out," LaBolt says. "And Organizing for Action is going to do the same thing."

OFA says if people want to lobby the president on Keystone, they can join other groups.

But the pipeline is not the only area where environmental groups are frustrated with Obama.

"Existing power plants are America's biggest global warming polluter," says Dan Lashof with the Natural Resources Defense Council. "They're responsible for about 40 percent of our carbon dioxide emissions. And EPA has both the authority and the obligation to set standards to curb those emissions."

But Obama's nominee to run the Environmental Protection Agency, Gina McCarthy, recently told a Republican senator that the agency is not developing any regulations to limit emissions from existing power plants.

Last week, a Senate committee voted along party lines to approve McCarthy's nomination. OFA and environmental groups both urged the full Senate to approve her. That's one thing they agree on. What the Obama administration does after she's in the job is a different story.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

In the last week the Twitter account for Barack Obama has posted five items about climate change, including this one. Quote: "While many in Congress continue to deny the science on climate change, Alaska's Columbia Glacier continues to melt."

GREENE: Now, the group that runs that Twitter account with the president's name is Organizing For Action or OFA. The nonprofit advocacy group emerged out of the president's re-election campaign. Its mission is to promote the president's agenda on a wide range of issues, from guns to immigration.

MONTAGNE: Now OFA is focusing on global warming. And as NPR's Ari Shapiro reports, that's creating some tension inside the White House.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: On Organizing for Action's first day, the group announced four focus areas. Guns and immigration took most of the bandwidth early on. Item number three, the budget, has been a drumbeat in the background. The fourth issue is global warming. This week OFA unveiled a website urging supporters to, quote, call out the climate change deniers.

And the group recently produced a video highlighting Republicans who question the science of climate change. The montage includes House Speaker John Boehner.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: Every time we exhale, we exhale carbon dioxide. Every cow in the world, you know, when they do what they do, you've got more carbon dioxide.

SHAPIRO: For President Obama's supporters, this campaign helps create an us-and-them, black-and-white standoff. On one side, President Obama and the scientific community that conclude man-made climate change is real. On the other side, members of Congress who are unconvinced.

Ben LaBolt is a former White House spokesman who consults with Organizing For Action.

BEN LABOLT: The end goal here is obviously to spur action behind climate. Few issues have motivated supporters to join Organizing For Action like climate change.

SHAPIRO: And that's where things get complicated. OFA's mission is to advance the president's agenda. But some environmentalists are frustrated with the president's agenda on climate change. For more than a year, protesters have marched against the Keystone XL pipeline. This protest brought thousands of people to the White House.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

SHAPIRO: Last week, the head of a Baltimore dredging company testified in support of the pipeline. Peter Bowe told a Congressional committee: For us, it's all about jobs.

PETER BOWE: Not the construction jobs from the pipeline itself, but ongoing jobs every year for decades to come, all related to the production of oil from the Alberta oil sands deposits.

SHAPIRO: On Friday, President Obama spoke at that dredging company in Baltimore.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: You guys are an example of what we can do to make America a magnet for good jobs. After all, y'all know a thing or two about growing the economy.

SHAPIRO: The White House insists that the president's speech had nothing to do with Keystone. But the situation shows how awkward this is for the president, caught between protecting the environment and trying to create jobs. Organizing For Action's global warming campaign does not extend to this key environmental debate of the day.

Consultant Ben LaBolt...

LABOLT: Ultimately the president's position on Keystone has been to let the State Department review process play out. And Organizing For Action is going to do the same thing.

SHAPIRO: OFA says if people want to lobby the president on Keystone, they can join other groups.

The pipeline is not the only area where environmental groups are frustrated with Obama. Dan Lashoff is with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

DAN LASHOFF: Existing power plants are America's biggest global warming polluter. They're responsible for about 40 percent of our carbon dioxide emissions. And EPA has both the authority and the obligation to set standards to curb those emissions.

SHAPIRO: But President Obama's nominee to run the Environmental Protection Agency, Gina McCarthy, recently told a Republican senator that the agency is not currently developing any regulations to limit emissions from existing power plants. Last week, a Senate Committee voted along party lines to approve McCarthy's nomination. OFA and environmental groups are both urging the full Senate to approve her. So that's one thing they agree on

What the Obama administration does after she's in the job is a different story.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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