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Obama mystique: Yes he can; will he?

Dec 11, 2009

As the first week of the COP15 climate conference in Copenhagen begins to draw to a close, it is clear that emotions run high as the expectations of the next week, writes San Francisco based environmental journalist Tom Schueneman. Even without the Congress nod, the US president wields the power to seal a deal, he argues.

Whatever the agreement from COP15 is called, one "delegation" heading to Copenhagen – the so-called "one-man truth squad" of infamous climate change denier Senator James Inhofe (reportedly now joined by Roger Wicker and John Barasso) – comes here to Copenhagen with the message that President Obama’s hands are tied in helping forge a global climate deal by the power Inhofe and his cronies wield (real or imagined) to sink any cap-and trade legislation that comes before it.

It isn’t the first time Inhofe is wrong, and it almost certainly won’t be the last.

Earlier this week the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute released a report here in Copenhagen called Yes, He Can: President Obama’s Power to Make an International Climate Commitment Without Waiting for Congress.

Citing several leading legal scholars and US Supreme Court opinions, the report validates a president’s broad power to enter into binding international agreements without a two-thirds majority vote in the Senate.

The report specifies two examples of a president entering into either a "congressional-executive" agreement or a "sole executive" agreement based on his own constitutional powers.

Beyond this, the report spells out a president’s sweeping authority to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through existing environmental laws, including the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, and National Environmental Policy Act.

"The President has the ultimate responsibility for enforcing domestic environmental laws, and those laws give him a wide variety of options for reducing greenhouse gas pollution," said Kevin Bundy, the report’s lead author and an attorney at the Climate Law Institute.

"All he has to do is promise the international community to use the authority he already has."

Referring to Inhofe’s promise to sink any cap-and-trade bill that comes before the Senate, and thus president Obama’s ability to lead the global community now assembled in Copenhagen, Bundy said: "President Obama’s hands are not tied by Congress’s lack of action or the grossly inadequate cap-and-trade bills currently under debate.

President Obama can lead, rather than follow, by using his power under the Clean Air Act and other laws to achieve deep and rapid greenhouse emissions reductions from major polluters.

Obama can use his authority to make a binding agreement in Copenhagen without additional action from Congress."

"It simply isn’t true that President Obama cannot make a commitment in Copenhagen," Bundy added. "Yes, he can, and if the world is to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, he must."

So, Senator Inhofe, come here to Copenhagen with your message of doubt and denial, it will be drowned out by the voices I now hear in the halls of the Bella Center as I write this, demanding change and progress.

The world is waiting for the US to lead. Try as Inhofe might, he will not stop the momentum felt throughout Copenhagen and the world toward progress. Can President Obama be the leader the world now needs?

Yes, he can.

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