Environment Or Economy? Obama's Balancing Act To sell Congress and others on the idea of taking bold steps to curb global warming, President Obama casts his arguments in terms of job creation. Many environmental activists say they wish he'd do more to push the "green" agenda.
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Environment Or Economy? Obama's Balancing Act

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Environment Or Economy? Obama's Balancing Act

Environment Or Economy? Obama's Balancing Act

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And as we just heard, the American and Chinese presidents spoke of fighting climate change, which is not going to be easy. World leaders no longer expect to agree on a climate treaty in time for a big meeting planned next month in Copenhagen. It is just as hard to build consensus inside the United States, and some environmental groups are growing impatient with President Obama.

Their concern is not so much what the president does; its what the president says and what he doesnt say. NPRs Don Gonyea has our report.

DON GONYEA: It was this way during the presidential campaign and it remains so under President Obama when making the case for reducing greenhouse house gas emissions for higher mileage automobiles or for reducing America's dependency on foreign oil. His message has been very consistent: whenever he talks environment, he also talks about jobs.

President BARACK OBAMA: Wind power and solar power and the next generation of biofuels; an investment that will lead to new industries and five million new jobs that pay well and can't ever be outsourced.

GONYEA: That is from his acceptance speech to the Democratic National Convention in Denver in the summer of 08. This is from a weekly presidential radio address this year.

Pres. OBAMA: It's a plan that will trigger the creation of millions of new jobs for Americans, who will produce the wind turbines and solar panels and

GONYEA: This past week in Tokyo, the president looked ahead to the U.N. climate change conference set for December in Copenhagen. He spoke of the urgency to address the problem. He said he has no illusions that it will be easy. Then came the jobs pitch.

Pres. OBAMA: The good news is that if we put the right rules and incentives in place, it will unleash the creative power of our best scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs. It will lead to new jobs, new businesses and entire new industries.

GONYEA: In public, the president never makes the case for addressing global warming in environmental terms alone. That bothers Damon Moglen, who works on climate change for Greenpeace.

Mr. DAMON MOGLEN (Greenpeace): You do not see the president doing what he has done on health care: going out into the public and explaining the problems of climate change and demanding from the Congress a science-based policy commensurate with the risks we face. We need to see much more leadership from Mr. Obama.

GONYEA: As for the decision to always link climate change to jobs, Moglen says.

Mr. MOGLEN: Of course, there are green jobs in this process. But the fact is the president now gives speeches in which he doesn't even mention the phrases climate change or global warming.

GONYEA: Another environmental activist, Jonathan Lash of the World Resources Institute, says the White House approach makes political sense especially today. He says the president is being pragmatic.

Mr. JONATHAN LASH (World Resources Institute): We're in the depths of the most serious recession that the United States has faced since the Great Depression. We're at 10 percent unemployment and that's what Americans are concerned about. They need to know that taking action now is not something that will prolong the recession but will help us out of the recession.

GONYEA: Meanwhile, in the United States Senate, Colorado Democrat Mark Udall disagrees that the White House is moving too cautiously on the issue. He says the change from the Bush administration is huge.

Senator MARK UDALL (Democrat, Colorado): Were the previous administration still in office, we would be debating the science of climate change, we would be debating here, whether to even to send a delegation to Copenhagen. Under this administration, we're fully participating.

GONYEA: But Udall, who has longstanding ties to the environmental community, does say that he hears, first hand, the frustration of those who insist that the president be more aggressive.

Sen. UDALL: I have to defend both the president and myself in town hall meetings from people who are impatient. And I appreciate that impatience. Time is moving along, and you have a number of other competitors around the world China, the Germans, the Danes, India are all moving very rapidly to invest in clean energy and technologies.

GONYEA: Which, he worries, will give those countries a competitive advantage in the green economy marketplace. Udall says he expects the White House to step up the pressure on climate change next year, once the fight over the health care is finished.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, the White House.

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