Ed Markey to Europe: on climate change, Obama is better than Bush

For all those Europeans disappointed so far with the Obama administration’s efforts to fight climate change, Congressman Ed Markey suggested that they remember the White House’s previous occupant: George W. Bush.

“Remember, Europe didn’t have President Bush in office for eight years,” said Mr Markey, the Democratic co-author of the cap-and-trade bill passed by the US House of Representatives in June.

“We’re trying to make up for lost ground. We’re trying to move as quickly as possible,” he added.

Mr Markey was speaking by video link to a group of European journalists a week after President Obama’s climate change speech at the United Nations fell decidedly short of European expectations.

For many on this side of the Atlantic, the address – far from raising their hopes about the chances of success at Copenhagen – contributed to the sense of a growing rift between erstwhile allies in the fight against global warming.

They have come to regard the White House’s all-consuming drive for healthcare reform with a particular sense of dread, fearful that it will crowd out any efforts to get a cap-and-trade bill out of the Senate before Copenhagen.

Mr Markey admitted that healthcare was “occupying a lot of political space” in the US at the moment. But he assured that cap-and-trade would be Mr Obama’s next priority.

“Upon the successful completion of the healthcare bill, the President will turn and give the same attention to this climate bill,” he said

He also argued that Senators could do the legislative equivalent of walking and chewing gum at the same time by working on both bills simultaneously. In fact, having a group of lawmakers involved in both bills could actually be a benefit, he suggested, since any trust built up in healthcare negotiations could carry over to climate talks.

Then there was the unexpected success of his own bill, which was passed by Congress in late June, to quiet the pessimists: “No experts believed it was possible, but it happened,” he said.

European policymakers are struggling in the dark over how to confront the Obama administration over climate policy. In spite of their growing disappointment, the fear is that any public comments might only provoke a backlash in the US, making the president’s task of building public support that much more difficult.

At the end of the day, there is an acknowledgement that Mr Obama’s recognition of global warming and the policies he has so far put in place represent “a sea-change” from the Bush years, as Stavros Dimas, the environment commissioner, has put it.

Mr Markey seemed well aware of that when he conjured the ghosts of Bush and Cheney. “We are behind Europe. We did not do anything for the last eight years,” he said. “Europe acted. Europe moved. The Bush administration didn’t do anything.”