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Endless Disappointment

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Obama’s decision to not implement stricter clean air standards might be the final blow to anyone who had hopes for him as an environmental president. While he campaigned on promoting clean energy and fighting climate change, he’s had to scale much of that back in the face of congressional opposition and Republican extremism. This I can understand on some level–if you can’t get the votes, you can’t get the votes.

But the president’s greatest power on environmental issues is through the executive branch and working with regulatory agencies. We saw George W. Bush do this very effectively–he wanted to eviscerate environmental regulations and he did. But Obama has generally refused to go down this road. While I think most of us were encourage by the appointment of Stephen Chu as Secretary of Energy, his appointment of Ken Salazar as opposed to someone like Raul Grijalva as Secretary of the Interior was very disappointing. Salazar has always been friendly to the energy industry and we’ve seen his Department of the Interior follow that path. Obama has not been strong on rallying for the National Park Service (which provides jobs, good environmental management considering the number of visitors and a big place in Americans’ hearts). He hasn’t pushed much for wilderness or new protections for federal lands. He signed the wilderness bill in 2009, but that was drafted before he took office.

Like most other issues, Obama caved on clean energy pretty fast, opening up drilling off the Atlantic Coast, apparently thinking this would get petroleum companies behind his energy policy, which showed his typical naivete when it comes to how Washington works. He stopped deepwater drilling after last year’s oil spill but that’s on its way back to pre-spill heights with no real additional regulations to prevent future problems.

And now we see Obama opposing the rules on clean air developed by his own EPA, apparently because he buys into the idea that environmental regulations hurt the economy and cause unemployment, an assertion commonly repeated but without empirical evidence.

It’s all extremely discouraging. I mean, I’ll vote for the guy, but that’s about it. The alternative will be atrocious on environmental issues, but it’d be nice to see Obama flex some presidential muscle and put through behind the scenes what he can’t get done through Congress. Alas, no.

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