Are we “greener” than we were four years ago?
Despite strident anti-environmental opponents on Capitol Hill, President Obama has managed to use the power of his office – deployed primarily through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Energy, and the U.S. Department of the Interior – to make our air and water cleaner, to reduce our reliance on foreign oil, to protect our public lands, and to attack the climate change that causes extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy.
Is his job done? Not by a long shot. But are we making progress? Definitely. And I’m supporting the President for a second term because I think he offers our best hope in this election to continue to make progress in the future.
This all became extremely clear to me earlier this week, as Hurricane Sandy was ripping away part of my roof. While I huddled in my basement listening to the terrifying wind and the torrential rain, I found myself getting mad, not just about what it would cost me to repair the damage, but about the reasons behind this catastrophic storm. Meteorologists, scientists, environmentalists, public health professionals, concerned citizens, and yes, President Obama, have all made the link between burning fossil fuels like coal and oil and extreme weather events like Sandy, let alone Hurricane Katrina and many others. And they’ve tried to throw the weight of their various offices behind solutions that would help wean us from fossil fuels.
Meanwhile, conservative forces in Congress and many state houses around the country have blocked legislation that would reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and opposed efforts to increase energy efficiency and the development of renewable energy sources like solar and wind. Bolstered by their conservative colleagues on Capitol Hill and pressured by Tea Party activists, Republican challenger Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, his running mate, have dismissed climate change, have literally said they “love” coal, and would strive to cripple the EPA if they were elected to office.
Maybe to some people, this is just “talk.” But as someone who has worked in Washington, D.C. to promote environmental protection during the Carter years, the Reagan years, the Bush 1 years, the Clinton years, the Bush 2 years, and now the last four years of the Obama Administration, I can say, and say unequivocally, that environmental policy consistently fares worse under Republican administrations than under Democratic ones. As Sandy has shown, the planet very much faces a climate change tipping point. Obama is on one side, Romney on the other. For me, siding with Obama is a no brainer.
Has Obama accomplished nearly enough? No.
Do I wish more change had happened? Of course.
But we should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
Though President Obama did not mastermind enough legislative victories, he used the power of the Executive Office to achieve many significant environmental gains. It is reasonable to assume that Romney would use his office equally to undercut them.
I support the re-election of President Obama.
Under directives from President Obama, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency managed to push through the first-ever national safeguards to reduce mercury and arsenic in our air and establish carbon dioxide limits for power plants. (Romney hopes to eliminate EPA's power to regulate carbon dioxide and remove rules that limit emissions from coal plants.)
Former EPA administrator Carol Browner said the safeguards “are preventative medicine—they will annually forestall thousands of premature deaths, hospitalizations, and respiratory ailments.”
The American Lung Association's analysis of air pollution shows that all 25 of the cities with the worst ozone pollution in the last report have improved, and 23 of the 25 worst particulate-matter cities are getting cleaner.
By pretty much any measure, America’s air is cleaner today than it was four years ago.
President Obama has issued an Executive Order on Federal Sustainability requiring Federal agencies to set a 2020 greenhouse gas emissions reduction target; 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.
President Obama rejected the initial northern half of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would run from Canada to Texas, although he has deferred a final decision. Though the President proposed opening more offshore areas to oil and gas drilling, he has maintained a drilling moratorium off the Pacific and most of the Atlantic coasts. He is seeking federal safety standards for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a process by which natural gas is extracted, and opposes $4 billion in annual tax breaks for oil and gas companies. (Romney supports the Keystone XL pipeline, supports opening all our public lands to oil and gas development, including America’s Arctic Wildlife Refuge, and supports giving more tax breaks to oil and gas companies.)
President Obama is the first president to allow public lands to be opened to solar projects. He has also approved 17 utility-scale projects with a capacity of 5,900 megawatts, enough to power about 1.8 million homes. The Department of the Interior has continued to support renewable energy initiatives, including six on-shore wind facilities with 800 megawatts of capacity and eight geothermal plants with 424 megawatts of capacity. In total, these projects will generate enough energy to power 2.3 million homes.
The President supports extending federal tax credits for utility-scale wind projects and favors loan guarantees and grant programs for green energy companies. (Romney opposes both.)
Overall, today we get twice as much energy from wind, solar and geothermal sources than we did four years ago.
The Obama Administration’s new fuel economy standards are projected to save consumers $1.7 trillion at the pump by 2025 while avoiding 6 billion metric tons of carbon pollution, an amount equal to total U.S. carbon emissions in 2010. Obama’s standards for new vehicles , Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, was quoted saying in the Washington Post, rank as “the biggest move to get us off our oil dependence by any president ever.” The rules, which took effect this year, will require the U.S. auto fleet to average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.
Vehicles are more efficient today than they were four years ago, a trend that will continue for the next 13 years...unless Romney reverses the rule.
The President also used the Clean Air Act to issue six major environmental rules, includes ones that limit toxic air pollutants, greenhouse gases, soot, and smog-forming pollutants.
How does that compare with the Republican approach to energy? The House Republican budget is aiming to cut the Department of Energy’s Office of Science and the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, both of which have played an essential role in America’s quest to achieve energy independence. In fact, reports Juliet Eilperin in the Washington Post , cuts the Republicans recommend would trigger a 19 percent reduction in funding for clean energy – despite the irrefutable evidence that clean energy is the primary solution to climate change.
Further, reports Eilperin, last month, urged on by several business and energy groups, the GOP-controlled House passed the Stop the War on Coal Act, which would reverse several Obama regulations and proposals. It would bar the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases, jettison the stricter fuel standards and give states primary authority over the storage and disposal of coal-combustion waste. Fortunately, that bill has little chance in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
Wilderness - The Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Park
At the President's direction, the federal Bureau of Land Management announced a ban on new hard rock mineral leasing and mining (primarily for uranium) in a million acres of wild lands adjacent to Grand Canyon National Park. The mining ban will protect important wildlife habitat and water quality that complement the park’s natural systems.
Obama has also advised all federal agencies with a role in land stewardship to consider the potentially catastrophic effects of climate change when developing their management plans. Crown jewels like Yellowstone National Park may not be suitable for many of the animals living there in the next century. Federal agencies there have been asked to maintain corridors so threatened species can migrate -- and survive -- as conditions change.
President Obama supports a woman's right to control her own body, including the right to reproductive choice. He is a strong proponent of Planned Parenthood and other social services that provide contraception and family planning, and believes access to family planning methods should be a basic health care. (Romney opposes reproductive choice and has said repeatedly during his campaign that Planned Parenthood should be shut down.)
Given the role that population growth plays in fueling climate change and pollution, it should be a top priority for any administration to support family planning.
The most long-lasting impact of any presidency is tied to the justices a President appoints to the Supreme Court. The court is routinely called upon to decide whether environmental laws are legal and can be enforced. The decision of the current, extremely conservative court to allow corporations to be considered as citizens puts them on equal footing with you and me. Yet we know we are not equal, given the billions of dollars they have to spend lobbying elected officials and, as we have seen in this election cycle, swamping voters with misleading ads. The next President will in all likelihood have the opportunity to appoint at least two justices to the court as the oldest members retire. President Obama has a solid track record of appointing justices who value the rights of citizens and who would uphold laws like Roe v. Wade, which guarantee reproductive freedom and access to safe abortion. (Romney has said repeatedly he would work to overturn Roe v. Wade; given the chance, he would appoint justices who share that view.)
An election should never really be about the person running for office. It should be about the world we want to live in, the vision we have for our future and the future of those who come after us.
We are on the right path. But we will not get much farther along if we don't vote in this election. We will not get much farther along if we don't vote to re-elect President Obama.
Please. Go to the polls.