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Best Environmental Presidents

[ 95 ] September 3, 2011 |

So as all of you have seen from his 100 comments on the matter, Joe from Lowell disagreed with my slamming of Obama for backing off of tightening clean air restrictions. That’s fine, he can say what he wants. Unless it has no merit. Such as this comment:

Obama is significantly better than every President in history on the environment.

Um.

Joe has his list and let’s reprint it here, so he can defend himself with his own words:

The first regulations on mercury emissions from gold mines.

The CSAPR rules, strict new emissions on mercury, arsenic, and other toxic emissions from coal-fired power plants, replacing the old CAIR rules.

Tighter regulations on stationary diesel engines’ emissions.

Tighter air toxic standards for oil and natural gas production.

Repealed the New Source Review grandfather provisions

Regulations on asbestos emissions from demolition projects. Nobody here has ever heard of this, either.

Regulations on intakes for cooling towers’ water intakes.

Regulations on lead paint abatement contractors.

Billions of dollars in subsidies for clean energy.

Billions of additional dollars for rail.

Those are good things, no doubt. On some of them, Obama deserves significant credit. I have given him credit on his environmental agenda from time to time. But let’s great real. Barack Obama is not the greatest environmental president.

That title is held by one of two candidates. The first is Lyndon Johnson. A very quick list of LBJ’s biggest environmental accomplishments:

Clear Air, Water Quality and Clean Water Restoration Acts and Amendments
Wilderness Act of 1964
Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966
National Trails System Act of 1968
Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968
Land and Water Conservation Act of 1965
Solid Waste Disposal Act of 1965
Motor Vehicle Air Pollution Control Act of 1965
National Historic Preservation Act of 1966
Aircraft Noise Abatement Act of 1968
National Environmental Policy Act of 1969

This is just off the Wikipedia page and doesn’t even count all the smaller regulations, the kind of that Joe uses to pump up Obama. And that’s pretty damn significant.

And then there’s Jimmy Carter, who not only screamed and yelled to Americans to get their shit straight on energy issues 30 years ago and who will go down in history as one of the few American heroes of fighting climate change because of this, but who passed major legislation of his own:

in 1979, Carter implemented “corporate average fuel economy” (CAFE) standards that mandated fuel-efficient cars — although those standards would soon be relaxed.

President Carter also oversaw passage of a number of other important laws, including the Soil and Water Conservation Act, the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, the Antarctic Conservation Act, the Endangered American Wilderness Act and the Superfund Act. Tighter amendments were passed on the Clean Air Act, and the Alaskan National Interest Lands Conservation Act conserved more than 100 million acres and 26 rivers in America’s Last Frontier.

And here is Carter’s 1977 Environmental Message to Congress, showing his comprehensive plans to clean up the environment and save unspoiled pieces of land.

There’s also Theodore Roosevelt, who I don’t have to explain; Franklin Roosevelt, whose CCC, TVA, SCS and other New Deal agencies brought environmental planning to the nation and, through the CCC, helped make conservation popular among working-class people; Richard Nixon, who didn’t care about environmental issues but still signed huge pieces of legislation; Thomas Jefferson, who centered American nature in his presidency and brought a scientific perspective to the White House; Woodrow Wilson, who created the National Park Service; William Howard Taft, who added significantly to America’s forest reserves and burgeoning national parks; and even John F. Kennedy, who responded to the publication of Silent Spring by establishing a committee to investigate the effects of pesticides on public health and eventually led to the banning of DDT. I understand there is also a new book out arguing that James Madison is highly underrated on environmental issues, which I will be reading and hopefully reviewing here soon.

And of course there’s Bill Clinton, who added huge chunks of the American West to the National Monument system and then left them under Bureau of Land Management Control to ensure they didn’t get overdeveloped. I am deeply mixed on Clinton’s environmental record because his promotion of NAFTA and globalization severely undermined environments in the developing world, but you can certainly make a strong case for him.

It may be that Barack Obama’s record fits in with some of the people on this list. It’s not like Obama is terrible on environmental issues, just disappointing and underperforming to his potential. But to say that Obama’s record on the environment surpasses Johnson and Carter is completely absurd. To claim that Obama is the greatest environmental president lacks any credibility. I mean, it’s one thing to be a supporter of the president, but can we keep from resorting to hackish hyperbole to defend him?

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Comments (95)

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  1. Actually, my list is only action taken by the EPA, in the last few months, on the issue of air quality regulations – in other words, one fraction of a fraction of his total environmental record.

    Nice straw man.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      Fine, dude, come up with his whole record. I’ll publish it in the main body of the text. You are the one who said he was the greatest environmental president ever. Prove it. If you can. Which you can’t.

      • Why am I supposed to come up with his whole record?

        You’re the environmental writer on this blog. If you want to make a comparison between Obama’s environmental record and other Presidents’, shouldn’t you be doing that?

        • Erik Loomis says:

          If you are going to claim that Obama is the greatest environmental president, prove it. Come up with 10 things that match Johnson or Carter. I don’t have all of their records in front of me. But I can find a list of 10 things really easy. Do the same for Obama. Show us how it is better.

          • Come up with 10 things that match Johnson or Carter.

            Johnson and Carter had large Democratic majorities throughout their presidencies, and Republicans who supported environmental legislation, so a list of bills passed by Congress isn’t a fair comparison.

            An apples-to-apples comparison would be to look at just the first two years of Obama’s presidency, and compare it to the first two years of Johnson and Carter’s, in terms of legislation passed.

            Just looking at the ARRA, there’s the $60 billion for clean energy, $11 billion for the smart electrical grid, the high speed rail, the $13 billion for fuel efficiency upgrades in government buildings, $18 billion for environmental projects like flood control and combined sewer separation, the $1.2 billion for the abatement of contaminated sites, and the funding for public transportation. That’s one bill.

            I think he also deserves credit for fighting the good fight on the climate change bill, and for his work at the Helsinki (?) conference to try to get a global agreement on the issue, even though it didn’t ultimately pan out.

            Another apples-to-apples comparison would be to put just his EPA record so far up against Carter’s.

            • JAtheist says:

              Johnson and Carter had large Democratic majorities throughout their presidencies, and Republicans who supported environmental legislation, so a list of bills passed by Congress isn’t a fair comparison.

              So, therefore we can’t/shouldn’t compare their environmental legislation record to Obama’s (at least not and expect a fair comparison) because of the larger context of congressional support/opposition. I assume this is your point? (And a point with which I agree!)

              But then…

              An apples-to-apples comparison would be to look at just the first two years of Obama’s presidency, and compare it to the first two years of Johnson and Carter’s, in terms of legislation passed.

              Just looking at the ARRA….

              Aren’t you doing a similar thing, by taking a large stimulus bill (with it’s own unique context and considerations) and using that as the evidence Erik was looking for?

              • I don’t get it. How is looking at a bill from the period in which Obama had majorities inconsistent with my statement about using apples-to-apples comparisons?

                I said that it would be fair to compare Obama’s first two years to those other presidents’ first two years…and then I did so.

                • JAtheist says:

                  I’m wondering if it can truly count as an apples-to-apples comparison if a large bulk of environmental regulation was contained within a bill that was itself a response to specific economic circumstances.

                  If we’re going to be aware of congressional differences in any sort of cross-presidential examination, shouldn’t the state of the economy be compared to? I realize that at a certain point it’s ridiculous to require every loose variable to be accounted for, but it was a thought that popped into my head.

        • md rackham says:

          Errr, Joe, weren’t you the one who made “a comparison between Obama’s environmental record and other Presidents’” by claiming he had the best record evah?

          If you made the claim, you need to back it up. Or admit that your O-love is more important than mere facts.

          • If you made the claim, you need to back it up.

            I am unfamiliar with this internet tradition.

            Seriously, WTF? Has anyone, ever, in the comment threads on this site, been asked to do this?

            Links? Examples?

            I don’t appreciate being singled out like this.

            • Malaclypse says:

              Has anyone, ever, in the comment threads on this site, been asked to do this?

              People are routinely asked to give evidence for assertions, yes. And there exists, in internet tradition, a word to describe those who will not give evidence, but who merely yell louder.

              • People are routinely asked to give evidence for assertions, yes.

                Really?

                Kindly find an example of anyone else on either of these threads being asked to provide evidence for their opinions.

                What makes this all the more galling is that I have provided vastly more evidence for my opinions than anyone else, and yet am singled out to provide more.

                • For instance, there was not a single request of Erik to back up his assertion that Obama is “endlessly disappoint(ing),” or that he “frequently caves.” Which is fortunate because he provided none.

                  Meanwhile, I actually list numerous actions taken by the Obama EPA on air quality. I actually explain, in detail, the process by which area-attainment rules like this ozone rule operate, and nobody has a single word to say about the facts of the matter.

                  Until I get singled out to ask for even more evidence.

                  Yet I’m supposed to take this as the ordinary run of things, and a good-faith request from the very people who 1) never provided any evidence for their own assertions, and 2) never asked anyone else – that is, the people who never provided a single whit of evidence for their assertions – for further evidence.

                  I doubt that you, yourself, are going to bother to find the evidence I just asked you for…but it’s just ordinary behavior.

                  Whatever.

                • Murc says:

                  This statement

                  Kindly find an example of anyone else on either of these threads being asked to provide evidence for their opinions.

                  would seem to involve moving the goalposts somewhat from this statement

                  Has anyone, ever, in the comment threads on this site, been asked to do this?

                  when it comes to the point you’re trying to make.

                  For instance, there was not a single request of Erik to back up his assertion that Obama is “endlessly disappoint(ing),” or that he “frequently caves.”

                  Didn’t… YOU ask him to do that? I’m pretty sure I remember that.

                • I was just going with the ground rules they was setting down, Murc.

                • DrDick says:

                  Really?

                  Kindly find an example of anyone else on either of these threads being asked to provide evidence for their opinions.

                  Here you go.

                • Just following his lead.

                  Again.

                  What do you think it says about you that this is the most important thing you could think to write about environmental policy?

                  Why do you follow politics, and read and comment on political blogs? What are you doing?

                • DrDick says:

                  Just following his lead. Again.

                  Ummmm. No. I had not read past your comment when I posted. You asked for an example, nicely providing one, and I thought I would point it out. In fact you constantly do that, along with being a condescending asshole when people disagree with you or point out that you are wrong.

                • Ummmm. No.

                  Ummmmmm. Yes. Mal decided that this was a valid path to go down, so I went with it.

                  You should be a little less egotistical, and not assume that everything is about you.

                • DrDick says:

                  You should be a little less egotistical, and not assume that everything is about you.

                  That is a bit rich coming from you, but since your comment immediately follows mine (which is preceded by another comment by you), it was a reasonable assumption on my part, as you did not indicate to whom you were addressing your remark.

                • This “No, YOU are!” gets so tedious.

                  Especially when it doesn’t even make sense.

                  I don’t have to imagine that people here are discussing. Frankly, they do it quite a bit more than I’d like.

                  you did not indicate to whom you were addressing your remark.

                  I was addressing you, but “he” was not a reference to you, but to someone else. That’s how the third person works. That’s why they call it “third person.”

                • DrDick says:

                  I was addressing you, but “he” was not a reference to you, but to someone else.

                  And now you are descending into incoherence. This is exactly why I have taken to avoiding these “it’s all about JfL” threads. It quickly descends into this kind of pointless and petty BS.

                • I think it’s been pretty well established at this point that your inability to follow something is not an indication that it is incoherent.

                  Do you they call you Doc because you watch a lot of Bugs Bunny?

                  And it only “descends” into this obsession with me when wounded little morons like yourself won’t stop babbling about me.

                  Do try to stick to the topic next time.

            • Murc says:

              Er, joe, no offense, but ‘if you made the claim, you need to back it up’ is not unreasonable. Demanding that people back up their claims happens here… well, quite a lot. I’ve seen YOU demand people back up their claims.

              You made a pretty sweeping claim about Obama’s environmental record. If you feel the need to walk it back, that’s fine. I make sweeping claims I need to walk back all the time; you, yourself, have called me out on that more than once. I remind you of when you took apart my position vis a vis our intervention in Libya, as well as our hair-splitting on whether or not George Marshal counted as a Virginian politician.

              I was following the other thread closely, although I didn’t chose to participate, and you didn’t draw a nuanced ‘If you compare Obamas first two years of executive-drive, mostly non-congressional actions against other Presidents, he is probably the best ever’ comparison. You made some pretty bold and sweeping claims about how good he is on the environment, and Erik is kind of asking you to put up or shut up. That’s fair on his part.

              I do question, a bit, Eriks propriety on singling you out on a front page post, but you’ve chosen to make yourself a prominent part of the commentariat here and its hardly the first time. Scott called you out on the front page over DADT a little under a year ago, and that actually resulted in egg on HIS face, not yours, if I recall correctly. And you didn’t complain much then.

              My own opinion is that Eric has you dead to rights. In terms of rhetorical effectiveness, I would advise you to graciously concede his point, and then retreat a bit and argue on the grounds of ‘As your co-blogger Scott has asserted numerous times, it is unfair, despite common practice, to assign Presidents sole credit for Congressional legislation passed under their auspices, and I assert that when it comes to things purely under his control, Obama has been pretty awesome on the environment.’

              THAT is a very, very strong position, due to it being, well, true. You’d have better luck fighting on that ground. Indeed, your strongest points on this issue have come when you adopt a nuanced position.

              What you won’t have luck doing is claiming you said things other than you did say, and imputing malice or false intent to people who, despite being somewhat uncouth, have legitimate beefs with you. That just kinda makes you look foolish.

              • Bill Murray says:

                it is unfair, despite common practice, to assign Presidents sole credit for Congressional legislation passed under their auspices, and I assert that when it comes to things purely under his control, Obama has been pretty awesome on the environment.’

                THAT is a very, very strong position, due to it being, well, true. You’d have better luck fighting on that ground.

                But if he does this he can’t argue every piece of legislation passed is due to Obama

                • Murc says:

                  Since I don’t believe joe has ever done that, I don’t think he’d have a problem forfeiting the ability to use that argument.

              • You made some pretty bold and sweeping claims about how good he is on the environment, and Erik is kind of asking you to put up or shut up. That’s fair on his part.

                But I did: since we were talking about an EPA air quality regulation, I provided a list of Obama’s record on EPA air quality regulations to back up my point.

                I think the idea that I’m required to come up with a comprehensive list to compare Barack Obama across every dimension of environmental policy is asking a bit much. I also (making Bill Murray’s little bitch session somewhat humorous) went into the problem of comparing Presidents’ legislative records without reference to the circumstances of Congress’s makeup and public opinion.

              • Tell you what, Murc: in the comment I wrote last night – you might remember, the one where I used “fuck” as a verb, noun, adverb, and adjective – I think I might have used stronger language to make my point than might have been absolutely necessary.

                Better?

            • Furious Jorge says:

              I am unfamiliar with this internet tradition.

              Are you new to the Internet or something?

    • I mean, seriously, you look at a list of Obama accomplishments that doesn’t even include the 35.5 mpg cafe standards, and conclude that it’s meant to be a comprehensive description of his entire environmental record?

      Even when you mention CAFE yourself?

      Hackish indeed.

      • md rackham says:

        Yes, that list he used–you, know, the one you provided–was really pretty weak sauce. What were you thinking when you did such a incompetent job of trying to support your argument? That someone else should do your research for you?

        • was really pretty weak sauce

          Had it been an effort to provide a comprehensive tallying of his environmental record, it indeed would have been.

          On the other hand, as a list of just air-quality regulations made by the EPA over a few months, it stacks up favorably with any President since the passage of the Clean Air Act.

          What were you thinking when you did such a incompetent job of trying to support your argument?

          Since you can’t even accurately state what my argument was or what the list was supposed to support, you’ll forgive me if I don’t lose any sleep over your opinion.

          • md rackham says:

            So we now are supposed to accept arguments of the form:

            Obama is the greatest pacifist President ever.

            The reasons why:

            - His Department of Education recommended reducing the maximum sodium content in school lunch gravies.

            I see how it works now. And you can’t challenge the claim because that’s not the argument I was making. And you have to come up with your own list of reasons because I was thinking of something else at the time.

            I understand your methodology at last!

  2. Redbeard says:

    Joe From Lowell:

    Obama has the “Own Goal” of telling us all that deepwater drilling was safe.

    BUT, if he comes to the conclusion that the Tarsands Pipeline is not in the US National Interest (and it is not, most certainly), and blocks its construction in the US, then yes, he will be a President who really protects America’s present and future environment.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      Indeed; Obama’s action on the Tarsands Pipeline is going to go a long way in determining his ultimate environmental record.

      • I agree with this.

        It’s important to put different actions in their proper perspective, and the tar sands pipeline is vastly more important than even the interstate toxics rule. It’s up there with his green energy initiatives and the ultimate outcome of the EPA’s GHG regulation.

      • Uncle Kvetch says:

        Indeed; Obama’s action on the Tarsands Pipeline is going to go a long way in determining his ultimate environmental record.

        Just a hunch: it’ll be an impenetrable, cobbled-together, neither-nor mess of a “compromise” designed to please everyone that ends up pleasing no one. Limbaugh will still squawk about how this is part of the Alinskyite program to destroy the economy, and the environmentalists will still hate it. All of which will prove that it was the right thing to do.

        Round and round we go.

  3. Joe from Lowell disagreed with my slamming of Obama for backing off of tightening clean air restrictions

    Actually, I didn’t.

    I slammed you for taking this one action as an excuse to shit on his entire presidency, describing it as “Constant Disappointment,” and going into a cliched tap dance about “capitulation” and a lack of progress, without any acknowledgment of the rest of his record of accomplishment on the environment or any other field.

    If you had merely written a post denouncing Obama for backing off tightening the ozone restrictions – not “clean air restrictions” as a whole, a field in which he has done a great deal to tighten regulations – I would have agreed with you.

    • md rackham says:

      Again, a claim with nothing to back it up.

      What exactly is “a great deal”?

      And, no, you’re the one making the claim, so I’m not going to do your research for you. I’d just find that you were merely blustering, anyway.

      • Again, a claim with nothing to back it up.

        …except for the list provided in the very post you are commenting on.

        Other than that, though, nothing.

        WTF?

        What exactly is “a great deal”?

        Piss off, troll.

        • md rackham says:

          Yes, the list in the post. The one you created. The one you’re now complaining is missing important accomplishments. I guess that incompleteness must be Erik’s or my fault.

          You could have made a more complete list to back up your claim, but it’s a lot easier to add claims as you’re challenged, rather than think it through to start with.

          Now I’ve been labeled a troll because I point out that you’re arguing against yourself. Good for you: another chance at self-examination avoided.

          • I guess that incompleteness must be Erik’s or my fault.

            No, insisting that the list is meant to be something it is not is your and Erik’s fault. He’s acknowledged this. Why can’t you?

            You could have made a more complete list to back up your claim

            My list backs up the claim it was meant to back up perfectly: the Obama EPA’s record on clean air regulation is quite strong, and demonstrates the strength of his environmental record.

            Now I’ve been labeled a troll because I point out that you’re arguing against yourself.

            No, you’re been labeled a troll because of your attempt to derail the discussion with “What is a great deal, anyway?” A smarter person might have noticed the label coming immediately after the quote, and put two and two together.

  4. DocAmazing says:

    Sadly, one of the better presidents on the environment was none other than Tricky Dick, who founded the EPA (if memory serves), and who at least took small measures to address petroleum shortages (even if it was short-term).

    It doesn’t take much when the competition is so piss-poor.

    • Nixon did good things, no question, but he more followed than led.

      I’d put George H. W. Bush ahead of Nixon, in terms of where he was compared to where the Congress and public of his era.

      And I’d put Carter, TR, and Obama ahead of either.

      FDR did some extremely environmentally destructive things. He was extremely anti-urban and promoted sprawl development, and to single out the dam- and concrete-crazy TVA as an environmental advance is just bizarre.

      • It annoys me when people claim that RMN was some kind of liberal. He signed laws that the overwhelmingly Dem congress passed. I can see him thinking “Sure fine whatever, let that Kennedy (McGovern) call me an environment hater now. Now watch me bomb those Cambodians mutherfuckers!”

        • DocAmazing says:

          Relative to Clinton and Obama, Nixon governed fairly liberally–and that is no credit to Obama or Clinton. The area where it is probably most clear is the observance of treaties with Native American tribes–lots of folks in the American Indian community consider Nixon to have been one of the least-bad presidents of the 20th c.

          Don’t get me wrong–Nixon was evil made flesh, but he was a deal-maker, and he managed to trade good for foul on a regular basis.

        • Scott Lemieux says:

          It annoys me when people claim that RMN was some kind of liberal. He signed laws that the overwhelmingly Dem congress passed. I can see him thinking “Sure fine whatever, let that Kennedy (McGovern) call me an environment hater now. Now watch me bomb those Cambodians mutherfuckers!”

          Exactly. It’s not like Nixon wouldn’t have been perfectly happy to sign off on an agenda passed by Newt Gingrich’s Congress, and it’s not like Obama (or Clinton) vetoed progressive bills Congress passed either. And some anomalous decisions on issues he didn’t care about notwithstanding, he pushed the Supreme Court way to the right. Seeing Nixon as a liberal is ahistorical.

      • FDR had other things on his mind in all fairness. He threw Civil Rights under the bus fer chrisakes.

    • Randy Paul says:

      Nixon signed the National Environmemtal Policy Act of 1969, created the EPA, signed the Clean Air Act Extension, The Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Endangered Species Act.

      • Yes, Nixon acceded to Congress on domestic legislation in order to keep their support for the Vietnam War.

        But he never ran on or pushed for any of those things. It’s really not the same thing as noting that Obama signed the Recovery Act.

  5. wrb says:

    Hmmm.

    Seems like an impossible question if you admit context. When the economy went down I figured “Oh well say good-by to doing anything about climate change until there is a recovery.”

    When the Republicans took the house it became, “say good-bye to prospects of accomplishing anything new, the fight will now be to see if they can be kept from de-funding everything that is in place already.

    Now it is “if he can just get his ass re-elected, maybe he can keep the Tea Party from eliminating the EPA, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and all climate-change research.” Which yea, might make him the best environmental president ever.

    • When the economy went down I figured “Oh well say good-by to doing anything about climate change until there is a recovery.”

      I’ve commented before that a lot of the environmental elements of the Recovery Act are much more about establishing an industrial policy revolving around switching over to clean energy than about providing short-term economic stimulus.

      Obama could have spent a lot less on environmental items in that bill, and put the money to highway and bridge projects, and produced more jobs in 2009-2010-2011 as a result, but he didn’t. He chose to use the opportunity to push important long-term environmental gains, which will be yielding results for decades – and he undoubtedly did so at a political cost to himself.

      Whether you conclude that this was a good decision or a bad one, it is a rather significant demonstration of his priorities.

      • wrb says:

        Sounds like it. I wonder if he regrets it now. I’m starting to regret that he didn’t just dump the ACA and concentrate on the economy. I would have hated the move at the time.
        I think the call on matters like this EP:A decision demend on your take on the overall lay of the combat theater. I’m moving toward the position that no battles should be fought for things that might harm the economy until the election, because they will cost votes and a lost election will overturn every battle you won.
        It is as if you face a battle for a piece of ground that is sacred to your people, and for the sake of your children and what you consider the demands of character you fight for it and win. However in the victory your troops suffuer losses sufficient that when the enemy’s main force, who you knew were inexoribly advanceing, later attacks they take back the sacred take, the rest of your lands, enslave your people and rape your children.
        In choosing to fight that first battle you were neither

        • wrb says:

          Damn thing posted on its own, without a chance to check for typos. I hate the fancy track pad on this new Powerbook

          … demonstrating character nor doing right by your children, you were being a stupid ass and betraying your children.

  6. CapnMidnight says:

    Rather than fight about Obama, I’d like to ask a question about this: Bill Clinton . . . left [huge chunks of the American West] under Bureau of Land Management Control to ensure they didn’t get overdeveloped.” I had thought that he left the new monuments with the BLM so grazing leases could stay in place, thus quelling one set of objections while still protecting the land from energy and other development. I’m interested in getting this straight– is there documentation either way? Thanks, Erik, as always.

  7. scott g says:

    Erik, re Clinton you missed the two huge national forest actions he took that book-ended his presidency: the Northwest Forest Plan at the outset, and the Roadless Rule at the closing.

    Not disagreeing with your overall brief, nor asserting that Clinton was a particularly outstanding advocate for the environment (in my view, he could, and should, have done a great deal more).

    But Obama’s administration has made Clinton’s look, in retrospect, like green visionaries. What’s significant about the reaction to giving up on new ozone regs is that the big, congenitally pragmatic enviro groups are beginning to mirror the frustration, even outrage that grassroots campaigners have been expressing since Salazar’s nomination.

  8. DrDick says:

    just disappointing and underperforming to his potential

    Frankly, that seems to sort of sum up his whole presidency.

  9. I am unfamiliar with this internet tradition. Seriously, WTF? Has anyone, ever, in the comment threads on this site, been asked to do this?
    Links? Examples? I don’t appreciate being singled out like this.

    I luvs’ya Jo from Lo
    but the tradition is so,
    Say shit, you must show,
    or be called a troll.

  10. There is an element of context and political reality: Clinton & Obama vs. Carter & Johnson, but that goes so far. I don’t think environmentalism is /was on the top 5 list of either Clinton or Obama. T. Roosevelt might be included on any list but because of the national parks thing since toxics were not yet a big issue.

  11. Davis X. Machina says:

    The further back you start, the bigger difference you can make. Same thing with civil rights and presidents.

    The improvements possible over time move to the margins.

  12. JAtheist says:

    I have a question!

    One thing that I didn’t really see addressed (and if it was, I missed it somewhere in the hundreds of comments on the last three environment-related posts), but that seemed to be hinted at:

    The list of various regulations that Joe from Lowell provided several (several!) times, and whether those were anything “special”. One thought that occurred to me when reading those was, “Wouldn’t some of these have been likely to happen (in some degree) with any president?”

    Like, the CAFE standards going up. Would that have been something that a President McCain or President Clinton also would have been likely to do?

    I’m not trying to be a troll, but some of them seemed like no-brainers, and while I know a Republican president might have an reason to not pass much of anything good on the environment, were any of them possible?

    Shorter me: JFL’s list; was it mostly a bunch of filler that most any president might preside over, or were they actual deviations above and beyond that counterfactual?

  13. John says:

    Just thought I’d note that my dad, who’s worked as a lawyer at EPA pretty much since its inception and is pretty liberal on environmental issues, always says that the administrations that did the best by EPA were Nixon/Ford and George H. W. Bush. Reagan and Dubya were the worst, by far, but he’s never had much of anything good to say about either Carter or Clinton’s record, at least with respect to EPA narrowly speaking. I’ve not gotten a good read on what he thinks of Obama’s running of the agency – my sense has been that he thinks Obama is better than Carter and Clinton, but not as good as Bush I and Nixon/Ford. But I’m not really sure.

    I suppose this should be taken with a grain of salt. My dad is certainly very pro-environment, but he’s also very pro-civil servant, and has kind of the professional civil servant mentality that the best political regimes are the ones that do least to interfere with the work of professional civil servants like him. Nixon/Ford and Bush I seem to have basically left the professionals to their own devices, while Carter and Clinton were both really into stuff like government reform and “reinventing government,” which my dad views as political efforts to interfere with the way his agency works. He’s willing to admit that Clinton and Carter were much better than Reagan and Bush II, who both basically tried not only to politicize EPA, but to politicize it for the purpose of basically doing whatever industry wants. But he continues to say that Bill Reilly (Bush I’s EPA chief) was the best administrator he’s worked for, and he’s worked for all of them.

  14. Bored Now says:

    What if you guys gave Joe From Lowell his own byline in exchange for him only responding to comments on his own posts?

  15. Pith Helmet says:

    Oh, goody. I see I missed the presidential dick-measuring contest over environmental laws.

  16. bobbyp says:

    David Bromwich wrote: “Obama’s pragmatism comes down to a series of maxims that can be relied on to ratify the existing order — any order, however recent its advent and however repulsive its effects. You must stay in power in order to go on “seeking.” Therefore, in “the world as it is,” you must requite evil with lesser evil. You do so to prevent your replacement by fanatics: people, for example, like those who invented the means you began by deploring but ended by adopting. Their difference from you is that they lack the vision of the seeker. Finally, in the world as it is, to retain your hold on power you must keep in place the sort of people who are normally found in places of power.”

    Bad as it may be, there comes a time when the Perfect is preferable to a Good that has lost its bearings.

  17. Joe says:

    To claim that Obama is the greatest environmental president lacks any credibility.

    JFL refuted your position that he “caved” repeatedly and your misleading skewered account of what he did for the environment. I did not get from his replies, quite substantive unlike many of the truly pathetic potshots at him (that yeah, egged him on enough to lash back, blame him though, right?), that Obama was the best thing since sliced bread. Passion for a cause doesn’t warrant lack of perspective.

    I have called Paul Campos out in the past for that sort of thing and EL does it all too much too. The petty attacks on JFL feel like something out of Glenn Greenwald’s “yes sir” comment stream. It’s dragging down the blog. My .02. FWIW.

    • shah8 says:

      I, on the other hand, am benefiting from JFL’s factual responses to bullshit.

      I take threads like these as a given. In the big picture view, this is just not much of a scandal, however much that it *is* a scandal. Policy horizons are so short now wrt to elections and debt crisis rusting everything else off the hinges, that it just doesn’t make sense to be angry.

      I also think that people should take note that the media is much louder with these kind of news than any progressive successes that I only find out with some random DKos diary.

      Lastly, I think the only thing that really matters is ending the Republican Congress, and Obama’s coattails are the key mechanism for getting a demographically favorable voting public for Democratic ballots. I don’t think, however, that the current Republican field has much of a hope in hell, so I don’t think Obama will lose, and I’ve never taken “economy matters” determinism seriously. What will be important is downballot.

    • pete says:

      I agree, many of the potshots at JFL were pathetic.

      I also think that JFL takes the bait too easily.

  18. Tirxu says:

    Joe from Lowell, you are a troll.

    I know you are more than just a troll, in the sense that some of your comments contribute to the discussion. But you cannot write 25 comments on a single thread about how everyone here is unfair to you because they asked that you back your claims with data without being a troll.

    Please stop.

  19. Jesus what a pathetic dick measuring contest. Look, here’s the issue in short:

    It’s incredibly stupid to say Obama is the best environmental President ever. It’s not a whole lot smarter to compare his record to the legislative achievements of past Presidents, given that I don’t think there would be much of an argument with the notion that at no point during the Obama administration would any major pieces of environmental legislation have passed Congress.

    • Bill Murray says:

      I would argue that notion, mainly in the sense that we don’t know because it wasn’t tried. It is likely true that it would only have been possible with a large push from the President and his legions of supporters, something that President Obama has not really done in any other context, but what if scenarios start with imagining all the possibilities

      • Bijan Parsia says:

        Depends on the purpose of the “what if”. If we’re gaming likely scenarios that’s a bit different than if we are investigating a specific idea (where it might make sense to be a bit outlandish).

        You’ve set up a necessary condition (big push/follower mobilization) but that doesn’t get us close to a sufficient condition (I’m not seeing how Obama bully pulpit + even a large progressive protest == 60 senate votes for environmental laws two years ago; plus the costs that even a fantasy win might have, much less a likely loss).

        The obvious point where Obama charisma and campaigning + popular mobilization would have been hugely and broadly effective was the 2010 elections. Holding the House or a lot of the state houses and governerships would have made a lot of things (more) possible. Indeed, a 65 Democratic senate would have been nice as well!

        There I think one can even argue that Obama should have done more. (Though he seems to do better with coattails than with campaign aid. Defeating Brown would have helped a lot, but that was trickier given the MA dem screwup.)

      • Wasn’t tried? The House passed a major piece of climate legislation that the Senate never even took up, so far as I know. And where would the votes have come from, with every Republican and various Democrats from dirty energy states adamantly opposed?

    • Erik Loomis says:

      It is certainly legitimate to say that what LBJ got passed would never see the light of day in the Congress Obama has to deal with. There’s no question about that. But any comparison of presidential records revolves around any number of factors that the president has little control over, including what sorts of crises he faces, what the overall opinion is in the country about the role of the presidency (for instance, the Gilded Age presidents were not only hamstrung by their ineptitude and corruption, but by the fact that most politicians at that time believed the president should take a back seat to Congress), what the makeup of Congress is, etc.

      The real answer to all of this is that any kind of presidential comparison is fluff. Fun fluff, but fluff nonetheless. Good for conversation, but of limited real historical value.

      • Bijan Parsia says:

        It certain can be, and in the common case is, fluff, but need it be? I’d rather try to assess what Obama has done by comparing it with other presidential records, even with all the confounding factors involved, than against some abstract idea.

  20. Kim says:

    I just love it when people argue with historians. Makes me giggle. Reading the comments here has been a hoot – thanks Eric, et al.

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