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Obama wants 'conversation' on climate change

Caption
President Barack Obama gestures as he answers a question during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama said Wednesday that his administration has not done enough to combat global warming but said he hopes to begin his second term by opening a national "conversation" on climate change.

Obama said at a news conference that he took some steps in his first term to slow global warming, such as sharply increasing fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks.

"But we haven't done as much as we need to," Obama said in his second comments on global warming since winning re-election last week.

Climate change was virtually absent during the presidential campaign until Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast. The devastating superstorm — a rarity for the Northeast — and an election that led to Democratic gains have elevated global warming as a subject of renewed political debate.

Obama said during his victory speech in Chicago last week that Americans "want our children to live in an America that isn't ... threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet."

On Wednesday, Obama did not outline specific legislation, but said he would talk with scientists, engineers and elected officials to find ways to make short-term progress to reduce carbon emissions.

After that, he said the country should begin long-term efforts "to make sure that this is not something we're passing on to future generations," noting that floods, hurricanes and other disasters exacerbated by climate change are "going to be very expensive and very painful to deal with."

Obama did not mention a possible carbon tax pushed by some activist groups. A White House official said this week no such proposal is on the table.

Taking on climate change in a serious way will require "tough political choices" at a time when Americans are more focused on the economy and jobs, Obama said. "If the message is somehow we're going to ignore jobs and growth simply to address climate change, I don't think anybody's going to go for that. I won't go for that."

But if Republicans and Democrats can shape an agenda that helps create jobs and makes "a serious dent in climate change," then the American people will be supportive, Obama said.

The right-leaning American Enterprise Institute held an all-day discussion Tuesday on a possible carbon tax, which would make people pay more for using fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and gas that produce heat-trapping carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The more liberal Brookings Institution has released a "modest" carbon tax proposal that would raise $150 billion a year, with $30 billion annually earmarked for clean energy investments.

Brad Johnson, campaign manager for ClimateSilence.org, an environmental group, said he welcome Obama's "belated call for a national conversation about how to address climate pollution."

But Johnson said Obama's assertion that climate change should be secondary to economic concerns was "a gross disappointment and an insult to the deep suffering of the millions of victims of climate disasters across this nation," including Hurricane Sandy. Obama is scheduled to tour New York City Thursday to view storm damage and recovery efforts.

"While conventional D.C. wisdom is focused on the manufactured crisis of the 'fiscal cliff,'" Johnson said, "the truth is that the most urgent threat to our national safety and economic well-being is the climate cliff that we are already beginning to tumble over."

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Reach Matthew Daly on Twitter: https://twitter.com/MatthewDalyWDC

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