August 25, 2016

Conservation is Conservative

How Green is Your President?

By David Jenkins, Vice President-Government Affairs

A senior representative of the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) was just quoted in the press as saying:

“The president (Obama) has been the greenest president we’ve ever had.”

Seriously? That is quite a claim, especially considering that President Obama has been roundly criticized for not doing enough to protect the environment.

Is he greener than Theodore Roosevelt or Richard Nixon? Let’s look at the record.

• In 2009, Obama failed to lead on efforts to pass climate change legislation, choosing instead to largely stand on the sidelines while partisans from both parties further polarized the issue.

• Obama has rushed ahead with offshore oil drilling in the sensitive, remote, and hazardous waters of the Arctic Ocean and ignored the more cautious approach recommended by the bipartisan oil-spill commission he established.

• Obama allowed the gray wolf to be delisted and stripped of Endangered Species Act protections in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, turning management over to states that overtly plan to significantly reduce the wolf population below restored levels.

In each of these cases, it appears that Obama allowed politics to trump responsible stewardship.

While Obama deserves credit for breaking the political stalemate on automobile fuel efficiency standards, that hardly stacks up to the numerous landmark accomplishments of Roosevelt and Nixon.

Teddy Roosevelt

Teddy Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt created the National Wildlife Refuge System, and signed into law the Antiquities Act, which gives presidents the ability to protect our natural and historical heritage by establishing national monuments. Roosevelt placed some 230 million acres of land under federal protection for conservation purposes as national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, and monuments.

TR did more. He educated Americans that stewardship is essential for ensuring America’s enduring strength and prosperity. Yes, Obama signed legislation early in his term expanding protections for wilderness, rivers, trails, and heritage areas. No one could seriously argue, however, that Obama could match TR in making conservation a lasting national priority. TR’s leadership was his greatest legacy.

Nor can Obama’s record match Richard Nixon’s in expanding the frontiers of stewardship. Although Obama has turned to the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulatory authority to get around a gridlocked Congress, it was President Nixon who created the EPA. Nixon also signed into law the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act. His leadership was critical for building national support for environmental protection, what he called a “cause beyond party and beyond factions.”.

While it may be hard to blame President Obama for the lack of good environmental legislation since 2010, the same cannot be said for his first two years when his own party controlled both houses of Congress.

Obama’s failure to lead on climate change stands in stark contrast to the action of another Republican president, Ronald Reagan.

Reagan, when faced with mounting scientific concern about the big climate concern of the 1980s, ozone depletion, he overruled naysayers within his own administration and pushed through an international treaty to address the problem. The Montreal Protocol, which began phasing out ozone-depleting chemicals used in refrigeration and many other industrial applications, is widely heralded as the most successful environmental treaty of all time.

In fact, the Montreal Protocol has prevented the equivalent of 135 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide since 1990. While the protocol was not intended to address climate change, which was not as well understood in the 1980s as it is today, it has achieved 10 times more greenhouse gas reductions than the 1997 Kyoto Protocol that Al Gore helped negotiate.

Claiming that President Obama is the greenest president ever not only reveals a shocking ignorance of this nation’s history, it belittles the hard work and bold leadership that gave America the environmental quality we all enjoy.

Unless of course, LCV was simply saying that Obama was green with envy.

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  1. Nanabedokw'môlsem says:

    Criticizing a President for sitting on the sidelines is not always fair. When the opposition coupled with Senate rules can stop anything in its tracks, and when the opposition party is refusing to consider much of what you author, sometimes sitting on the sidelines gives good results: Obamacare, so-called, the Affordable Care Act.

    • When Senators Kerry, Lieberman and Graham were trying to build support for a bi-partisan climate bill, a number of other Senators (including Republicans) were waiting to see signs of firm White House support. Those signs never came. The White House had a practice of waiting to see the bandwagon form before jumping on. That is not leadership.

      Obama involvement could have averted the collapse of that bi-partisan effort, but he never got involved.

  2. I think it’s unfair to lambast Obama for not doing enough. In terms of environmental issues he is doing much better than Bush II and has shown more concern than any president in some time. I am sure that Obama would have done more for the environment had the Republicans in the current Congress not made the 112th Congress the most anti-environmental in congressional history. Also, comparing Obama’s environmental stance to Reagan’s I don’t feel is right. During the Reagan years U.S. regulatory agencies saw far less funding and environmentalists at the time had to fight simply to keep the status quo of the environmental legislation of the 1970s. By 1984 alone due to Reagan “EPA staff cuts totaled 29% and budget cuts 44% from 1980.”

    I am a registered Republican, but I don’t care what party a person comes from as along as they’ll do good for the environment. George W. Bush was terrible on environmental issues, and Mitt Romney has not only said that he will fight for coal, oil, and natural gas but has used global climate change as a laugh line. I agree that Obama is not even close to the greenest president in history, but at the moment he’s the best thing we have.

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