Obama Made ‘Big Mistake’ on Climate Bill, Turner Says

U.S. President Barack Obama made a “big mistake” in pushing health-care legislation before climate change, billionaire Ted Turner said today.

“We would have an energy climate change bill in the United States if President Obama had made that his top priority and brought that to the American people and Congress first rather than the health-care bill,” Turner, founder of Time Warner Inc.’s CNN, said today at a conference in Cancun, Mexico. “But he didn’t, and I think it was a big mistake.”

Obama, who campaigned on a promise to fight climate change, made the economy, health care, energy and education his top priorities after taking office. Health-care legislation was signed into law earlier this year after contentious debate while a “cap-and-trade” bill to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions stalled in the Senate. Obama now says he doubts such a measure can win passage until 2013 at the earliest.

“The climate bill is much more important than health care because the climate situation is about life and death whereas the health-care bill was much more limited,” Turner, 72, said.

A bill creating a cap-and-trade program to reduce emissions and establish a market in pollution allowances passed the House of Representatives last year. The Senate dropped the measure earlier this year amid claims that an emissions-trading system would boost energy prices and hurt the economy.

Skepticism Rises

U.S. skepticism about whether humans are causing climate change has increased, polls show. Congressional elections in November will bring into office in January almost four dozen new lawmakers who question global warming, according to ThinkProgress, an arm of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, a Washington research group allied with Democrats.

Turner, who also spoke in Cancun yesterday, said more needs to be done to raise public awareness of the threat.

“We have to convince the majority of people in the world that we are right and get them motivated,” he said. “That’s a big job, but hopefully we can do it.”

Turned noted humans only began burning the fossil fuels linked to climate change about 200 years ago. “Now we are being asked to completely change our energy system in a quick period of time,” he said. “It’s hard for us. It’s something we really have to do if we want to survive.”

Climate Summit

Turner spoke this weekend at the World Climate Summit, a conference focused on how businesses can help combat climate change. The gathering is timed to coincide with United Nations- led climate change treaty talks in Cancun.

Negotiators from about 190 countries are debating the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and terms for a new accord that includes all major polluters. The U.S., the second-biggest greenhouse-gas emitter after China, is the only industrialized nation not bound by the Kyoto treaty.

Japan, Russia and Canada have refused to sign up for a second round of emissions reductions once the current ones written into Kyoto expire in 2012.

Emerging economies, such as China, India and Brazil, are pushing for the developed countries to agree on a new commitment period. Discord over Kyoto threatens to take attention away from talks for a new global climate agreement that includes the U.S., UN climate chief Christiana Figueres said yesterday.

The Obama administration is limited in what it can commit to in the talks because the U.S. doesn’t have a national law capping emissions by a certain percentage. Obama’s lead climate negotiator, Todd Stern, says the U.S. will stick to its pledge of cutting greenhouse gases about 17 percent by 2020.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans to start regulating carbon from power plants and oil refiners starting in January.

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