Has Obama Actually Been Bad for the Environment?

obama energy speech 2011 photo

Photo credit: US Navy
TIME Magazine wonders ...
Obama's decision to pull the plug on stricter smog pollution standards has the environmental community reeling. It's pretty clear to observers that the move marks an unabashed cave-in to powerful business interests and their political allies in the GOP. Coupled with the Obama's imminent-seeming decision to approve a truly nasty tar sands oil pipeline (the US State Department has already released an environmental report that essentially clears the way for the project, and Energy Secretary Steven Chu has hinted it will proceed), a sense is growing that the Obama administration has turned its back on greens.

So powerful is the sentiment that a recent TIME magazine piece is headlined "Is Obama Bad for the Environment?"From the piece, by environmental reporter Bryan Walsh:

From the extreme to the mainstream, environmental groups reacted to Obama's announcement on smog with the fury of the scorned. It didn't help that Obama's political capital with environmentalists was already dwindling after his perceived failure to push through carbon cap-and-trade legislation and the gradual disappearance of global warming as a White House priority. Greens pondered aloud how a President they had worked so hard to elect, one who had pledged to put science before politics, could screw them over so badly -- and they asked whether he was no longer worth the same effort in 2012.
This is surely a major blow -- perhaps the biggest outright disappointment since the fizzling of the climate bill last year. But does it mean Obama's actually bad for the environment?

Here's Walsh's take, which I'll heartily second: "Obama has still done a lot for greens, from ambitious new fuel-economy standards to unprecedented funding for alternative energy -- not to mention the fact that the President, unlike most of his GOP opponents, actually accepts the reality of climate change. But the events of the past few weeks drive home an unhappy fact: amid a floundering economy and a scarily tight re-election battle, the environment is going to come second for the White House."

Hence, capitulating on clean air standards to get the GOP and industry lobbyists off his back.

When it comes down to it, however, how much of a failure you believe Obama has been on the green front depends largely on how urgent you understand the climate problem to be -- and what you think Obama could reasonably accomplished given his unprecedentedly fierce opposition. Could he have gotten a climate and clean energy bill through Congress if he pushed it first, instead of health care reform (or alongside it even)? We'll never know. Is Obama's refusal to attempt a more robust public dialogue about global warming another mark of failure, another capitulation to a zealous opposition? It surely seems to be, considering that he ran -- and was elected -- on promises to address climate change, which he claimed was a threat to the nation.

As such, it's possible to claim that Obama is "bad for the environment" -- despite the positive strides he's taken -- if you agree with climate scientists that we've got to start drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions ASAP. Then Obama hasn't delivered. By all other counts, he's done a lot, even considering the recent (disgraceful) decision to forego smog rules. Unfortunately, millions of green voters championed Obama because he vowed to address global warming. They were convinced he'd put the massive task of mitigating the climate crisis ahead of politics. This, of course, was a fantasy. But the lack of any meaningful headway in climate policy is a very real failure.

What do you think: Has Obama been bad for the environment?

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