After eight disastrous years of President Bush, the bad news for Barack Obama is that his in-tray is over-flowing with problems. The good news on issues such as climate is that he does not have to do much to be seen as a real radical.

Yesterday his energy advisor,  Jason Grumet,  noted what everyone already knows: that the United States has “operated absent a federal climate policy, a federal climate program with mandatory elements, for many, many years now.”

Given this complete and utter failure, it is not really surprising that he is making noises that he plans a “decisive break with George Bush on environmental policy once he moves into the White House.”. Whilst this should not be too difficult, Grumet told an environmental conference yesterday there would be “swift movement” on climate change legislation. “I think it is going to be a very very busy 2009, and I think we are going to need all of you to be on top of your game.”, Grumet said.

So much for fine words, but Grumet gave no hint of any policy specifics, and the Guardian newspaper reported how “his optimism was not shared by others at the conference.” For example, Eileen Claussen, the president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, said that a U.S. cap-and-trade law is “much more likely in 2010” and said she worried that momentum might flag in the meantime.

There is also disappointment for the people who had hoped that Al Gore would be Obama’s White House “climate czar”. His spokesperson Kalee Kreider said “Former Vice President Gore does not intend to seek or accept any formal position in government. He feels very strong right now that the best thing for him to do is to build support for the bold changes that we have to make to solve the climate crisis.”

With Gore out of the running, other candidates for the post are said to include former EPA chief Carol M. Browner, Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano and Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius.

You can bet that the appointment, like so many, will be heavily scrutinized.  Moreover, when the Obama team announces something on climate, it had better be radical.


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