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.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.
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.