The Obama administration today acknowledged that its ability to play a leading role at international climate change talks later this year will be dictated largely by how quickly Congress acts on global warming legislation.
"The president has been very clear that he wants to re-establish the United States as a leader on the issue of climate change," Carol Browner, the president's adviser on energy and climate change issues, told an energy conference at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology this afternoon. But Browner added that the U.S. position at climate talks will be "driven by what we are prepared to do domestically."
Congressional legislation, Browner said, "is absolutely essential to our position and what we can ultimately hope to achieve in Copenhagen," where more than 180 countries will meet in December to write a new treaty to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.
Browner's comments offer some of the most explicit public statements yet from the administration on how it plans to handle climate change policy this year. They suggest that the White House is exerting significant pressure on Congress to keep global warming legislation at the top of its agenda in coming months.
"I am very confident Congress is going to act," Browner said, noting that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has made a commitment to allow debate on global warming legislation and that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would be supportive of such efforts as well. "We talk to the staffs virtually every day on our efforts with Congress," Browner said.
Meanwhile, there were new signs today that House Democratic leaders are listening closely to the concerns of their colleagues in manufacturing states, many of whom are warning that a cap-and-trade program to limit emissions will have a negatively impact on their state's industries. Particularly in the Senate, the support of these moderate Democrats will be central to passing legislation.
"We have to set aside a certain amount of carbon credits to ensure that the steel and the paper and other trade-sensitive, energy-intensive industries are not exploited in the near term by the Chinese and others," Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, one of the leading House Democrats on climate change and the recent coauthor of a draft global warming bill, said at the conference today.
In the past, President Obama and some Democrats have called for auctioning all carbon credits. But in order to win votes in Congress, they now seem to be making concessions. "We can't have all the credits auctioned off immediately," Markey said.