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Obama Sends More Green Signals

Obama Sends More Green Signals

I’ve written a good number of times here about how I admire what the Obama Administration has achieved in the teeth of vigorous – some might say fanatical – opposition from Republicans on the Hill and elsewhere, as well as from Democrats too, mostly those beholden to the fossil fuel special interests.  (Here are some observations along the way:   Obama’s Team, The White House Keeps Driving to the Hoop, Money Where Your Mouth Is Department, Obama and Copenhagen, Cars and Greenhouse Gases, and Taking the Bull by the Horns.)  As sincerely as I respect Joe Romm, I did not and do not subscribe to his contention that Barack Obama will have a failed presidency without having effected comprehensive climate and energy legislation.  (See comment #83.)

Barack Obama has taken at least one well-deserved hit from the environmental community in the past year:  when he quashed EPA’s tightening of the ozone standard.  I don’t have much use for John Broder at the NY Times – I think he takes every opportunity to take a hatchet to Obama and, for that matter, to environmental concerns – but he did tell a compelling story here on how the ozone rule failed for political reasons, cloaked as economic concerns.  (Never mind that a Supreme Court ruling expressly forbids the consideration of economic costs in determining National Ambient Air Quality Standards as the White House maintained in its ruling.  Antonin Scalia, for pity’s sake, wrote the opinion that included this conclusion:  “The EPA may not consider implementation costs in setting primary and secondary NAAQS under §109(b) of the CAA.”)

But the architect of that odd and unwelcome decision by the White House, Bill Daley, has resigned “to spend more time with his family.”  That is, of course, the tried and true euphemism for being forced out.  Politico puts it this way:   Bill Daley resignation: Greens say ‘good riddance’.  So that’s a good signal.

Another plus is that the President has banned uranium mining near the Grand Canyon.  As PlanetArk reports “The Pew group, the League of Conservation Voters, the Sierra Club, Earthjustice, the Center for American Progress and other environmental and progressive groups applauded the decision as protecting the Colorado River watershed, which supplies drinking water for 25 million people.”  The right-wing Institute for Energy Research, funded by Koch Industries and ExxonMobil, among others, was outraged:  “This latest power-grab by federal regulators is another example of the Obama administration’s willingness to use ideologically driven energy policies as a means to control the U.S. economy.”  Oh dear!

I think you can so often gauge the quality of your decisions by who dislikes them.  This is true as well in the now-epic struggle over the Keystone XL project.  In the wake of the President’s decision in November to postpone a decision until 2013, the Republicans in the Congress held a gun to the nation’s head in pushing a rider to the payroll tax deal in December:  The President has until February 21st to say yes or no to the pipeline.  The upshot, according to the White House?  “The House bill simply shortens the review process in a way that virtually guarantees that the pipeline will NOT be approved.”  Here’s another perspective from the excellent David Roberts at Grist that supports the Keystone XL is dead scenario.

Well, “The Hill” reports that business groups that environmentalists (like me) love to hate are lining up to try to intimidate the White House:  Business groups, Republicans launch onslaught on president over Keystone.  The ever-gracious Jack Gerard, head of the American Petroleum Institute, said Obama had to approve the pipeline or deal with “huge political consequences.”  There’s plenty of political cover available to the President, however, from venerable groups like the National Wildlife Federation:  “In our view, the national Chamber of Commerce’s support for the Keystone pipeline scam demonstrates once again that the Chamber is a pay-to-play operation that has been taken over by big oil companies.”  The Guardian goes farther in its reporting:  Oil lobby’s financial pressure on Obama over Keystone XL pipeline revealed.

Meanwhile, up in Canada, the Guardian also reports, a battle over another tar sands pipeline “turns ugly.”  The Canadian natural resources minister, Joe Oliver, has gone a bit bonkers it seems.  He “…let loose an extraordinary rant against opponents of a controversial project to pump tar sands crude to Pacific Coast ports on Monday, accusing campaigners of colluding with foreign ‘radicals’ and ‘jet-setting celebrities’ to hijack the government.”  Shades of Spiro Agnew.   What the worthy minister doesn’t wish to acknowledge is that there’s a broad-based, intense and growing opposition within Canada to the exploitation of the Alberta tar sands.  The First Nations, for example, are opposed.  See this from PlanetArk.

Joe Oliver accuses opponents of the Pacific pipeline and of the tar sands of  trying “…to undermine Canada’s national economic interest.”  How dare he make such an accusation is my reaction.  It is precisely the oil industry and their myrmidons in Ottawa that are undermining Canada’s national economic interest.  I wrote here in April of 2011 about an important series at The Vancouver Observer detailing how as “…Canadians dig deep to ease their carbon footprint, Alberta’s oil-sands pollution wipes out their sacrifice.”  Economic well being depends on diversity and sustainability, Mr. Oliver.  I guess you didn’t get the memo.

I believe the present administration in the White House did get it.           



Bill Hewitt

Bill Hewitt has been an environmental activist and professional for nearly 25 years. He was deeply involved in the battle to curtail acid rain, and was also a Sierra Club leader in New York City. He spent 11 years in public affairs for the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation, and worked on environmental issues for two NYC mayoral campaigns and a presidential campaign. He is a writer and editor and is the principal of Hewitt Communications. He has an M.S. in international affairs, has taught political science at Pace University, and has graduate and continuing education classes on climate change, sustainability, and energy and the environment at The Center for Global Affairs at NYU. His book, "A Newer World - Politics, Money, Technology, and What’s Really Being Done to Solve the Climate Crisis," will be out from the University Press of New England in December.

Areas of Focus:
the policy, politics, science and economics of environmental protection, sustainability, energy and climate change