US President Barack Obama’s climate agenda hit a wall on Capitol Hill, and now his administration’s Plan B – going it alone with existing regulatory authority – is under fire from a newly emboldened Republican majority in the House of Representatives. So perhaps it’s not surprising that the president’s top adviser on energy and climate issues, Carol Browner, is stepping down (New York Times, Washington Post).
Browner (in the center of the White House photo at right) headed the Environmental Protection Agency under president Bill Clinton and was quickly tapped by Obama at a time when it looked like a substantial shift on US climate policy might be in the works. But those heady days have long since passed, leaving the administration to chart a more conservative path forward. Indeed, although it is pressing on with climate regulations under the Clean Air Act, the White House recently issued a new regulatory review policy that is intended to woo business interests and blunt concerns about heavy-handed government mandates. Obama even penned a guest editorial in the Wall Street Journal when the executive order came out last week.
There has already been plenty of speculation about the significance of Browner’s departure and whether it signifies a new shift in policy. It’s hard to answer that question, but clearly the administration is struggling to confront new economic and political realities. And although is little doubt that Obama believes in their cause, environmentalists are clearly looking for signs that Obama is not backing down. We may have a better idea of where things are going after Obama addresses the nation in the annual State of the Union speech this evening.