Photo: Elizabeth Cromwell, Wikimedia Commons, CC
Bruce Babbitt was the Secretary of the Interior under President Bill Clinton. He knows firsthand the dangers of failing to push back against corporate and political interests that seek to overturn environmental safeguards and exploit the nation's invaluable natural resources. He himself admits to at times having failed to be tough enough on the conservation front, and letting big business and industry-friendly Republicans trample environmental concerns. But so far, Obama has been a total pushover. Babbitt said as much during a recent interview, and I'm inclined to agree.
Here's his surprising statement, via the LA Times:
President Obama has failed to answer Republican attacks on environmental safeguards "forcefully and persuasively" and to articulate his own vision for conserving American wilderness and water, former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt charged Tuesday ...
Babbitt is giving voice to disappointment among many environmental advocates. Since the midterm elections, the administration has delayed or weakened several regulations bitterly opposed by congressional Republicans and business lobbyists, and given credence to the GOP contention that regulations -- especially environmental ones -- stifle growth ...
More recently, Babbitt said, the administration has acquiesced to riders that conservatives placed on the interim budget, including one that took the gray wolf off the endangered species list in several states and another that gutted a program meant to reduce overfishing.
As the Times points out, it's rare for such scathing dissent against a president to be voiced from a vaunted member of the party establishment. But Babbitt is pretty clearly pissed off -- and he's not the only one. Leaders of environmental groups across the nation -- from the Sierra Club to the NRDC to Greenpeace, just about everyone's pretty let down by the president's performance on green issues.
To be clear, Obama has taken some wonderful baby steps in the right direction, mostly at the beginning of his term in 2009. At that point, those baby steps -- mobilizing the EPA to recognize greenhouse gases as a pollutant, amping up fuel economy standards, and overturning hasty Bush administration land leasings to oil and gas companies -- seemed like leaps; the dawn of a new era.
Since then, of course, we've seen a nearly unmitigated string of failures and discouragements: failure to guide a climate bill through Congress, acquiescence to the GOP on expanded offshore drilling, leasing more land for coal mining, etc. These recent letdowns are hardly a surprise -- they're just the latest disappointments in a long line of shortcomings for a president who hasn't deemed the environment unworthy of investing any political muscle.