WASHINGTON, Nov 2 (Reuters Point Carbon) - Climate change was catapulted to the forefront of the U.S. general election on Thursday after New York's independent mayor threw his weight behind Democratic President Barack Obama, citing his stance on climate change.
After refusing to endorse any presidential candidate in the last election in 2008, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a former Republican, endorsed the re-election of Obama because he believed he would adopt policies to tackle climate change and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney would not.
The high profile mayor was speaking just days after former hurricane Sandy slammed into the eastern seaboard of the U.S. killing more than 80 people and leaving millions without electricity.
"Our climate is changing. And while the increase in extreme weather we have experienced in New York City and around the world may or may not be the result of it, the risk that it might be -- given this week's devastation -- should compel all elected leaders to take immediate action," he wrote in an opinion piece for Bloomberg News, which he owns.
The endorsement is unlikely to sway the vote in the Democratic-leaning city of New York, but it has put the climate change issue in the national spotlight as media attention has been focused on disaster recovery in the eastern United States. So far, the issue of climate change has scarcely played a part in the closest presidential contest for decades, an omission that has drawn ire from environmental groups.
Bloomberg cited Obama administration regulations to curb heat-trapping carbon dioxide and other emissions from cars and power plants as signs of leadership on the issue, although he expressed his general disappointment with Obama's performance the past four years.
When Obama came to office in 2009, he called for aggressive legislation that would put a price on carbon dioxide emissions through a cap-and-trade system, but backed away from the issue a year later.
A bill that would have set a mandatory limit on carbon emissions failed to get support in the U.S. Senate in 2010 amid strong opposition from Republicans as well as Democrats representing coal-dependent states.
The administration has implemented less stringent regulations through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to curb carbon, mercury, sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions, but the agency has delayed their implementation amid strong opposition.
Bloomberg, a billionaire, donated $50 million of his money to green group the Sierra Club for their campaign to replace one-third of coal-fired power plants with cleaner energy and launched a plan for the city to cut its carbon emissions 30 percent by 2030.
Bloomberg said he would have endorsed Republican candidate Mitt Romney if the former Massachusetts governor had supported some of his previous positions, such as his stance on climate change.
In his op-ed, Bloomberg applauded Romney's initial decision in 2003 to sign on to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cap-and-trade program to cut electricity sector emissions in 10 northeastern states of which New York is a member.
"Since then, he has reversed course, abandoning the very cap-and-trade program he once supported. This issue is too important. We need determined leadership at the national level to move the nation and the world forward," Bloomberg wrote.
Although Bloomberg also cited gun control, immigration, tax reform and deficit reduction as key issues, he focused his op-ed on the climate issue.
"One sees climate change as an urgent problem that threatens our planet; one does not. I want our president to place scientific evidence and risk management above electoral politics," he wrote.
(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici)