By Maeve Reston and Kathleen Hennessey, Tribune Washington Bureau
MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — President Barack Obama capped a weeklong focus on climate change with a push for greater energy efficiency, a pitch particularly attuned to reaching two groups: big-dollar donors in the green movement and activists once inspired by his 2008 ambition to heal the planet.
Both groups will play a role in turning out Democratic voters in November, a crucial factor for the party’s hope to retain control of the Senate. But Obama has faced palpable frustration among some supporters who had hoped for more progress on his 6-year-old promises.
Although he notched some early accomplishments, such as increasing fuel economy standards for automobiles and placing limits on air toxins from new power plants, he abandoned his pursuit of cap-and-trade and major energy legislation because of opposition in Congress.
More recently, though, Obama has pleased the environmental community by again delaying a decision on the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which environmentalists oppose. And next month, the administration plans to issue major new regulations to cut carbon emissions from existing power plants.
This week, the White House seized the moment to build greater credibility on climate change, a push timed to the administration’s release of a major report and a Senate debate over energy efficiency legislation.
After the White House released the National Climate Assessment, which warned that the effects of climate change were immediate and widespread, Obama sought to highlight the issue in interviews with meteorologists, remarks at Democratic fundraisers across California and a speech Friday.
The White House on Friday also touted the completion of a largely symbolic accomplishment — the installation of solar panels on the White House 28 years after President Ronald Reagan removed them and four years after Obama promised to put them back.
From a stage surrounded by racks of tube socks and glitter-encrusted flip-flops in a solar-powered Wal-Mart store in Mountain View, Obama announced a series of corporate pledges to increase renewable energy use and several incremental steps to boost solar generation.
“Together, the commitments we are announcing today prove that there are cost-effective ways to tackle climate change and create jobs at the same time,” Obama said. “Inside of Washington, we’ve still got some climate deniers who shout loud, but they’re wasting everybody’s time on a settled debate.”
The message was a notable detour for Democrats, who have emphasized stagnant middle-class incomes and a higher minimum wage as their top-tier message in the midterm election. The shift reflects a strategy to use every lever to push the party’s base to the polls — and ensure that left-leaning groups have the money needed to execute that plan.
The White House said it believes its climate push speaks to voters across the spectrum.
“For voters, any time you’re taking an action that cuts pollution, it is as close as you can come to a position that has broad and deep appeal across the board,” said one White House official, who would not be named talking about the politics of what the administration said was a policy effort.
The official said the message resonated with some of the groups that Democrats are most worried may sit out the election — particularly young people, who view acceptance of climate change as a threshold issue.
A number of pollsters and political scientists said, however, that the approach has its limits. Many noted that the voters who would be most excited by Obama’s renewed focus on climate change formed a sliver of the electorate.