Part of Obama’s second-term climate strategy: Going regional?

posted at 2:01 pm on February 25, 2013 by Erika Johnsen

Both political realities and economic opportunities are preventing President Obama from playing the full-fledged climate-change champion he would no doubt like to embody; a “comprehensive” climate-change bill, like the one Sen. Barbara Boxer recently announced she plans to bring to floor, is unlikely to even make it out of the Senate, and unless there’s some sort of dramatic Democratic sweep in the 2014 midterms, the chances aren’t going to improve. Thus, it’s up to the Obama administration to try and do their own second-term Legacy Building via regulatory, administrative, and executive fiat.

In terms of finding ways to demonstrate that they’re Doing Something on climate change and keeping the green lobby quelled, it looks like one strategic method they’re increasingly playing with is approaching local governments to offer up federal resources to help prep for harsher weathers, as Obama hinted he would in the SOTU: “But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.” It’s a kind of grassroots ground game that can help keep the climate-change discussions potent on less divisive community-government levels and stir up support for the administration, reports the National Journal:

Outside Washington, the administration is building support a different way. The Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, and Agriculture departments are ramping up their outreach to state and local governments to help them prepare for the impacts of climate change, including increased flooding and more extreme storms and droughts. …

“This seems to me [to be] the beginning of a big-tent, grassroots climate strategy, which no administration has attempted in the U.S. before,” said Paul Bledsoe, an environmental-policy consultant who was a senior climate-change and communications adviser to the Clinton White House. …

“We’re seeing more and more interest and activity from the federal agencies,” said Brian Holland, director of climate programs for ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability USA, an organization that works with municipal governments. …

Even the State Department has reached out. Two days after Secretary of State John Kerry was confirmed in his post, his undersecretary, Robert Hormats, phoned Holland’s group to ask how the foreign-policy department could help local governments in the U.S. prepare for climate change…

As far as a climate-change action items go, I think that adapting infrastructures and better preparing for individual localities’ specific weather situations are actually pretty great ideas, although I’m not quite sure why it’s up to the federal government to get itself involved in local governments’ decisions — but then I remember the Obama administration’s agenda and fondness for courting favors, sowing talking points, and spending money we don’t have, and suddenly it all makes sense.

Unfortunately, local resiliency outreach isn’t the only thing the Obama administration already has up its sleeve — word on the street is that Obama will announce assistant administrator Gina McCarthy as his pick to replace Lisa Jackson as EPA chief as soon as this week, and they’re likely waiting until after what will already be an undoubtedly feisty confirmation battle before they publicly announce that the unabashed war on coal is finally back on, whoopee.

Addendum: Sen. Coburn is already all over this “going local” tactic, via the WFB:

Sen. Tom Coburn (R., Okla.) sent a letter to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Thursday asking the administration to terminate its “Connecting Your Community” campaign in which federal officials meet with leaders in 100 cities across the country to discuss ways the federal government can better assist local governments. The campaign began last week.

“Much is being made about the possible impact of sequestration on government programs for the poor and middle class, food safety, and the defense of our nation,” Coburn wrote in the letter.

“It is somewhat surprising, therefore, for the White House to be headlining a 100 city government spending tour, transporting representatives from multiple departments and various agencies around the country to promote federal largesse,” he continued.

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