WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President-elect Barack Obama will act against climate change early in his presidency, an environment adviser said on Wednesday amid doubts that a U.S. carbon-capping program will be in place before 2010.
“The president-elect will move quickly on climate change,” Jason Grumet, the Obama campaign’s lead energy and environment adviser, told a conference on carbon trading.
Grumet, who has been mentioned as a possible choice for the new U.S. administration’s energy secretary, told the group of business and policy-making specialists: “My suggestion to all of you is to enjoy the holiday season ... and rest up because I think it’s going to be a very, very busy 2009.”
He offered no specifics and answered no questions. He noted that the United States has “operated absent a federal climate policy, a federal climate program with mandatory elements, for many, many years now.”
The United States is alone among major industrialized nations in rejecting the carbon-capping Kyoto Protocol, whose first phase runs out in 2012.
One deadline for crafting a follow-up international agreement is December 2009, when 190 nations plan to agree on a new climate deal in Copenhagen. But a U.S. senator and a climate change expert both expressed doubts there would be a U.S. cap-and-trade plan in place by then.
Cap-and-trade is shorthand for a strategy to limit the emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide -- which come from fossil-fueled vehicles and coal-fired power plants among other sources -- and allowing those who emit more than the limit to trade credits with those who emit less.
A bill that would have set up a cap-and-trade system failed to pass the U.S. Senate this year.
Sen. Jeff Bingaman, a New Mexico Democrat who has been active on climate change and who chairs the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said energy legislation -- which would focus on developing alternative energy sources and improving energy efficiency -- would likely pass before climate change legislation.
“I wouldn’t limit it to the first year (of the next two-year Congress),” Bingaman told the conference. “I think the reality is that it may take more than the first year to get it all done.”
He said that once energy legislation passes, “I think our prospects for moving ahead then and seriously considering and enacting cap-and-trade legislation is improved.”
The complexity of the enterprise and the current financial crisis are factors that could slow the process down in Congress, he said.
Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, said she agreed with Bingaman that a U.S. cap-and-trade law is “much more likely in 2010” but worried that momentum might flag in the meantime.
Bingaman said he assumed the incoming Obama administration would keep the momentum going.
Editing by Cynthia Osterman