XV. President Obama’s Mixed Record on the Environment

The Republican mantra on fossil fuel extraction in the 2008 presidential campaign was “Drill! Baby! Drill!” Candidate Barack Obama countered that chant by stating that he would not expand gas and oil drilling leases until fossil fuel companies drilled on the many leases they were holding.

Once Obama became president, with minimal public warning or advance preparation, he announced a large expansion of offshore drilling, particularly off the east coast. These leases, however, were put on hold when the massive Gulf oil spill occurred under a British Petroleum oil rig.

Later, President Obama announced an intent to open up leases off the coast of Alaska. This announcement stirred up Alaskan environmentalists, who were very concerned about oil spills under Arctic conditions.

Obama continues to support deep drilling for oil in the Gulf of Mexico, even though the ability to stop big leaks miles beneath the water’s surface remains unproven.

When President Obama opened up offshore oil leases it was not the first time the administration had increased leases, as in 2009, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar put 53 million acres of offshore oil reserves up for lease, eclipsing the record of the Bush administration.

The Keystone XL pipeline, a $7 billion project to transport Canadian tar sands oil to refineries in Texas, represents President Obama’s latest involvement in a major oil issue. Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, calls tar sands oil “the dirtiest oil on earth.” Dr. James Hansen, NASA’s top climate scientist, has called it “essentially game over” for the climate if Canadian tar sands are fully developed.

A major objection to the XL pipeline is that it is presently routed over an aquifer in Nebraska, which provides water to eight states. Obama has punted on the pipeline, delaying a decision until after the November 2012 elections.

The International Energy Agency has called for a “bold change of policy direction toward the use of low-carbon fuels within the next five years.” Jack A. Smith, who is a frequent contributor to Global Research, says the Obama White House is greatly expanding U.S. access to fossil fuel energy sources, especially a vast increase in natural gas production from hydraulic fractoring  (fracking).

Burning gas for electricity emits 30 percent less carbon dioxide than oil and 45 percent less than coal, but fracking releases sufficient stores of methane into the atmosphere to compensate for any reduction in carbon from natural gas. Atmospheric carbon is now at 392 ppm (parts per million): the safe level is 350 ppm, according to the consensus view of climate scientists.

Jack A. Smith charges that the Obama administration has no significant program to replace high-carbon-emitting fossil fuels with renewal non-carbon solar and wind power. Al Gore has blasted Obama on climate change because he has “made concessions for oil ans gas companies without asking anything in return.”

President Obama’s scrapping of EPA smog regulations represents the overturning of the unanimous finding of the EPA’s independent scientific advisers. Ground-level ozone, the main ingredient in smog, is a powerful irritant that can cause asthma and other lung ailments. Michael Brune condemned Obama’s action, calling smog an “air pollutant that when inhaled is like getting sunburn on the lungs.”

The new smog regulations are expected to cost from $19 billion to $90 billion, depending on strictness. Given President Obama’s position that he bases environmental decisions on the best scientific advice, the only reasonable explanation for his deferral of a decision to 2013 is that he doesn’t want to alienate big business before the November 2012 elections. Notably, the EPA is prohibited by law from taking cost into consideration in its rulings.

The American Lung Association feels betrayed because it suspended its lawsuit over the Bush smog standards after Obama pledged to change the standards. Now it will resume its legal fight.

The nest blog will focus on the Obama administration’s uneven record on mountaintop removal; present other pluses and minuses on Obama’s environmental record; and provide suggestions on what Obama should do or should have done on environmental policy.


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