Obama vs Obama on the Environment: It’s a Draw!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

change The Obama administration has made some notable moves on improving the environment, but it has also made some serious concessions to industrial and political opponents who claim that environmental regulations are costing jobs. So the best that can be said about the Obama’s pros and cons on the environment is: it’s a draw!

Some of Obama’s Cons

The most notable recent back-walk from support for the Clean Air Act came on September 2nd, when Obama said he had asked Lisa Jackson, his head of the Environmental Protection Agency, to withdraw the draft of the Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards that she had just fully committed to finalizing on July 26th. Obama, Al Gore said, has “bowed to pressure from polluters.”

image Jackson had supported a similar pass on our Clean Water Act, when she testified before congress that she was “not aware of any proven case where the ‘fracking’ process itself has affected water.” She made this statement in the face of numerous situations where the failure of fracked wells has created environmental havoc, as the towns of Dimock in Pennsylvania and Pavillion in Wyoming, where you can no longer drink the water, can attest.

Technically, of course, she is correct. As the gas companies who are drilling the wells have been allowed to retain the composition of the fluid they pump down the wells as “proprietary” information, a clear connection to the drillers is difficult to make. The gas companies claim that the benzene, toluene, xylene and formaldehyde in the local drinking water are “natural” products that were always there and that, shucks, it just isn’t their fault.

Some of Obama’s Pros

Possibly Obama’s biggest and most long-lasting environmental achievement, which will unfold over the next several years, is his Executive Order 13514, which seems to be proceeding well under the media’s radar. The Order “requires Federal agencies to set a 2020 greenhouse gas emissions reduction target within 90 days; increase energy efficiency; reduce fleet petroleum consumption; conserve water; reduce waste; support sustainable communities; and leverage Federal purchasing power to promote environmentally-responsible products and technologies.” The order also requires all government agencies to “Identify and analyze climate vulnerabilities that would interfere with accomplishing the Agency’s mission by March 2012.”

Since the Federal government constitutes some 20 per cent of our economy, that is a great many products that will become more energy efficient and require their producers to become more environmentally responsible.

image The requirement for reducing petroleum consumption is actually one of Obama’s wider achievements, one that will have environmental benefits for a long way down the road. On July 29th, the President announced fuel efficiency requirements that will raise the average miles per gallon for the family car to 62, and that for trucks to 44 mpg by 2025. Hopefully, of course, by that time, most vehicles running on American roads will be driven by electricity or fuel cells, but those still operating with internal combustion engines will be a running a lot cleaner.

A recent opinion poll conducted by the American Lung Association in Michigan and Ohio found that people in those states, which are seeing some of the worst of this recession in terms of employment nevertheless support the government setting limits on air pollution and reject the notion that “stronger safety standards will impede economic recovery.

From their mouths to Obama’s ear, is all we can hope.

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