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Environmental policies may be Obama's second-term 'legacy'

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Coal mined from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming is increasingly being shipped to Asia as the nation's coal exports are at record levels. REUTERS

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By The Washington Post
Saturday, Aug. 10, 2013, 8:18 p.m.

WASHINGTON — President Obama's environmental policies are likely to play a prominent role in defining his second term.

When Gina McCarthy first met with Obama in the Oval Office on Jan. 10 to discuss the prospect of heading the Environmental Protection Agency, she recalled, “the first words out of his mouth was the need ... to focus on climate.”

“He sees this as a necessary part of his legacy,” she said.

Obama's deputies are laying the groundwork to manage public lands across broad regions. They are preparing to weigh in on a controversial mining proposal in Alaska.

In the administration's first term, it framed climate initiatives as ways to promote energy independence or cut consumer costs. Agency heads have been given very different guideposts for the second term.

In his chief of staff, Denis McDonough, Obama has a policy manager who has written and contributed to several pieces on climate change as a senior fellow at the liberal Center for American Progress think tank in 2006 and 2007.

The shift has alarmed some industry officials as well as coal allies. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., described the administration as coal's “adversary” and brought a state delegation headed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, a Democrat, to the White House on Aug. 1 to meet with McCarthy and White House legislative affairs director Miguel Rodriguez.

While Manchin called the nearly hourlong session “very respectful and productive,” he also said it exposed the “deep differences” between politicians like himself and Obama.

“You cannot describe this any differently than as a war on coal, and not just in West Virginia or the U.S., but on a global scale,” he said. “They're using every tool they have to destroy the most abundant, reliable and affordable resource that we have.”

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., who co-founded the Safe Climate Caucus and has pressed the White House for years to address the issue more aggressively, said he has sensed “a sea change” since Obama presented his climate plan in June.

“It does not appear to be, ‘Just make a speech and walk away,' ” Whitehouse said. “It appears to be a lasting and real policy shift.”

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