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Best Environmental Presidents


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.


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Repealed the New Source Review grandfather provisions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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