Leading national environmental organizations and climate policy experts reacted quickly to the December 21 nomination of Senator John Kerry as the next Secretary of State, stating clearly what their expectations of him are: decisive action on climate change, including full rejection of the Keystone Pipeline; establishing the United States as a world leader in international climate policies; and, overall, making climate change one of his very top foreign policy priorities.
Friends of the Earth President Erich Pica, speaking within hours after the nomination announcement, said: “we expect Senator Kerry to make clear his commitment to making climate change the signature issue of the State Department under his leadership.”
Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, called Kerry a “true leader on climate change,” citing the Massachusetts Senator’s 91% lifetime environmental voting score, and noting his career-long committment to “policies which are good for the planet.” (See the LCV national scorecard, which rates ALL members of the US House and Senate on their environmental voting record, here).
Larry Schweiger, CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, noted that “Kerry understands the urgent need for U.S. leadership and global cooperation to tackle climate change and speed the transformation to a clean energy economy.”
Many of the statements singled out one issue — the Keystone XL ‘Tar Sands’ Pipeline — as the primary test of Kerry’s commitment. “It goes without saying,” said Pica, “…that as Secretary, the first major challenge of the senator’s leadership at the State Department will be his involvement in the decision to reject TransCanada’s request to construct the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline… it is inconceivable that he would do anything other than reject the pipeline permit given that tar sands will otherwise become a ’carbon timebomb.’”
Michael Brune, the Executive Director of the Sierra Club, said: “As Secretary, Senator Kerry will face numerous issues that are crucial to both the security of our nation and the future of our planet, including critical decisions on the Keystone XL pipeline.”
The Keystone Pipeline (KXL) has remained highly controversial, as proponents (the oil industry and their political backers in Congress) and opponents each dig in. Despite increasingly brazen and diverse protest tactics (read about the human blockade, the tree sit-in, or the college fossil-fuel divestment campaign), TransCanda has begun construction on the ‘southern leg’ of the pipeline in Texas.
The issue will soon become highly visible, again, for both President Obama and Kerry, with increased implications for US foreign policy. A major anti-KXL rally in Washington, DC is being planned for February 18 by the popular climate-action organization 350.org; organizers are not disclosing details but are claiming the rally will be larger than their biggest one to date – the rally, in November 2011, at which 12,000 people circled the White House in protest of the pipeline.
Many environmentalists have expressed confidence that Kerry will be a reliable and strong ally fighting climate change. “The League of Conservation Voters looks forward to working with Secretary-designate Kerry to combat the climate crisis,” said Karpinski. Joseph Romm, a top climate expert with the Center for American Progress, said Kerry is “one of the Senate’s leading climate hawks,” and called his nomination a clear indication that President Obama will focus on climate change in his second term.
Bill McKibben, the founder of 350.org, tweeted the following: “…main thought on seeing John Kerry nominated for Secretary of State – glad there are a few adults left in our political life.”
The optimism of environmentalists that John Kerry will make climate change a foreign policy priority at the State Department nevertheless stands in contrast with the continued lack of coverage in mainstream media of climate change as an international issue including the important role the Secretary of State could play.
The editorial board of the Washington Post, in a December 26 op-ed, discussed many of the international challenges facing Kerry… without any mention, whatsoever, of a single climate change issue, despite the fact that many will shortly confront the new the Secretary of State, such as: what to do about increased coal exports and increased coal consumption in India, Pakistan, and China; what to do about dangerous new ‘under the melted Arctic’ oil drilling; how the US can, finally, show global leadership, post Kyoto/Copenhagen/Jo’berg/Dubai failures, on a universal carbon-reduction treaty regime which meets reduction goals based on science; promotion of international renewable energy sectors (including how to expand partnerships); and dozens of other elements of climate change policy with profound international (and intergenerational) implications — not the least of which being the Keystone XL “Tar Sands” Pipeline.
The Washington Post said not a word.
Don Lieber's writing and research has been published by the United Nations, The Associated Press, The International Campaign to Ban Landmines, The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, E-The Environmental Magazine and others. He contributes regularly to PlanetSave.com.