By: John Lundin
Hey Republicans. Yeah, you – the ones with your heads in the sand. Watch out! President Obama wants to save you from the effects of climate change, whether you deny it or not.
President Obama’s lasting legacy may turn out to be that of environmentalist – in fact, the first global environmental leader with the courage to break free of the chains of parochial politics.
Anything said about Obama the Environmentalist needs to be prefaced with these four words: ”In spite of Republicans… “ As in, “In spite of Republicans, President Obama is trying to clean up our environment and save the world!”
Teddy Roosevelt was probably the first president to rightfully wear the mantle, “Environmentalist.” Roosevelt used his presidency to protect wildlife and public lands by creating the U.S. Forest Service and establishing 51 Federal Bird Reservations, 4 National Game Preserves, 150 National Forests, 5 National Parks, and enabling the 1906 American Antiquities Act which he used to proclaim 18 National Monuments. During his presidency, Theodore Roosevelt protected approximately 230,000,000 acres of public land. It even got him enshrined on Mt. Rushmore.
But Teddy Roosevelt was an American environmentalist. President Obama has bigger salmon to fry – he needs to emerge as the global leader if he is to do anything to save the world. And the world is sorely lacking leaders that possess anything close to global vision when it comes to the politics of cleaning up the environment and responding to the challenges of climate change.
Teddy Roosevelt had this to say:
“We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune.”
That inspirational quote could easily be modified today to say the Earth is our glorious heritage and we must each do our part if we – we the people of the planet – are be worthy of our good fortune.
In spite of Republicans… President Obama may yet prove to be the environmental president with the vision and political courage to lead the way.
With his veto pen in one hand and executive orders in the other, Obama the Environmentalist seems to have recently rolled up his sleeves and positioned himself to respond to the challenge.
In spite of Republicans… here’s what the President has already done:
Environmentalist Obama has in his hand a wonderful statute known as the Antiquities Act, signed into law by Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 to give presidents what amounts to emergency powers to protect important landscapes by designating them national monuments. Mr. Roosevelt used the law to protect the Grand Canyon, and 16 presidents have used it since for similar purposes. It allows the President to move forward while the Congress sits on its hands.
Mr. Obama has used the Act to designate and preserve 11 national monuments, mostly small. His latest and boldest is the 500,000-acre Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in southern New Mexico.
Many of the other Obama administration initiatives have been undertaken as a result of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, and many of those investments were specifically in clean energy. The Recovery Act included more than $70 billion in tax credits and direct spending for programs involving clean energy and transportation.
President Obama also created the Advanced Research Project Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) in 2009. This Agency helps to advance high-impact energy projects that have the potential to transform the way we generate, store, and use energy.
In September 2013, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced proposed standards for new power plants. In June 2014, the EPA, under President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, proposed a common-sense plan to further cut carbon pollution from power plants.
The Obama administration has made real progress in developing a wide range of initiatives that reduce greenhouse gas emissions through clean energy policies. Since President Obama took office, the U.S. has increased solar electricity generation by more than ten-fold, and tripled electricity production from wind power.
In late 2014, the president put forward another EPA proposal to address carbon dioxide emissions from the nation’s power plants. Power plants are the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States, so this is another opportunity to significantly reduce them, especially by switching from dirty fuels like coal to either renewables like wind and solar or natural gas.
In one of his biggest moves to date, the President traveled to China to negotiate a joint US-China agreement to cut net greenhouse gas emissions 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. The joint announcement, the culmination of months of bilateral dialogue, highlights the critical role the two countries must play in addressing climate change. The actions they announced are part of the longer range effort to achieve the deep decarbonization of the global economy over time. These actions will also inject momentum into the global climate negotiations on the road to reaching a successful new climate agreement next year in Paris.
On the conservation front, President Obama used his legal authority to create the world’s largest fully protected marine reserve in the central Pacific Ocean, demonstrating his increased willingness to advance a conservation agenda without the need for congressional approval.
By broadening the Pacific Remote Islands National Marine Monument from almost 87,000 square miles to more than 490,000 square miles, Obama has protected more acres of federal land and sea by executive power than any other president in at least 50 years and makes the area off-limits to commercial fishing.
In spite of Republicans… here’s what the President is poised to do next:
He has pledged to veto the Keystone XL legislation that the Senate and House are currently positioned to pass, even though they probably lack the authority to actually approve the project. The symbolism of the President effectively killing the pipeline will be important, however, and one can only assume that Obama the Environmentalist is secretly hoping it will actually reach his desk.
The President has pledged to further address carbon dioxide emissions from the nation’s power plants. Power plants are the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States, so implementing these new rules will be an opportunity to significantly reduce them, especially by switching from dirty fuels like coal to renewables like wind and solar.
The largest category of emissions the Obama administration can tackle through its existing authorities under the Clean Air Act are those associated with so-called ‘fracking,’ and the methane gas emissions associated with it. The administration has already begun to address the “fugitive methane emissions” associated with fracking as announced in pre-State-of-the-Union remarks just this week.
Methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. “Pound for pound, the comparative impact of methane on climate change is over 20 times greater than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period,” according to the EPA.
Another area in which Obama the Environmentalist can flex his muscle is that of transportation. The current transportation bill expires this year, so there has to be some kind of legislative action on transportation. The question is whether Congress and the administration can agree on a financing mechanism for road construction and mass transit that will have a positive environmental benefit and also address the problem of congestion.
There’s a possibility that if the two parties can be creative in how we address transportation, we can have a longer-term transportation bill that addresses the financing needs for highway construction, but also delivers some environmental benefits.
This ‘lame duck’ president has been fighting the good fight in favor of the environment and against Republican obstructionism for six years now. He has been surprisingly successful and effective. Facing a Republican majority in both the House and the Senate does not appear to phase him, in fact it may have emboldened him.
In spite of Republicans… Obama the Environmentalist may well go down in history as the President who provided the first global leadership and vision that finally led the world toward beginning to save itself.