Re­cent Obama ac­tions choke ‘green’ back­ers

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY KARA ROW­LAND

A slew of White House re­treats on en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues has “green” vot­ers see­ing red — and threat­en­ing po­lit­i­cal con­se­quences for Pres­i­dent Obama in next year’s elec­tion.

For most of his ad­min­is­tra­tion, Mr. Obama has ag­gres­sively sup­ported clean-en­ergy tax cred­its and last month an­nounced the first fuel-ef­fi­ciency stan­dards for heavy-duty trucks.

The pres­i­dent, how­ever, may have re­versed sup­port among en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists with other re­cent moves — par­tic­u­larly his de­ci­sion an­nounced Sept. 2 to aban­don tougher air-qual­ity rules.

“We’re pay­ing at­ten­tion, and the pres­i­dent needs to know that putting thou­sands of Amer­i­can lives need­lessly at risk is a se­ri­ous po­lit­i­cal mis­cal­cu­la­tion,” Green­peace Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Phil Rad­ford blogged af­ter the an­nounce­ment.

Scores of ac­tivists were ar­rested out­side the White House as they protested the pro­posed Key­stone XL pipe­line ex­ten­sion, which the ad­min­is­tra­tion has con­cluded would have a neg­li­gi­ble im­pact on the environment.

The XL pipe­line de­ci­sion, com­bined with Mr. Obama’s or­der for the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency to back off from tougher ozone re­stric­tions un­der the Clean Air Act, has en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists con­cerned that the pres­i­dent is cav­ing in to crit­i­cism from busi­ness advo- cates who con­tend that fed­eral over­reg­u­la­tion is hold­ing back eco­nomic growth.

The pres­i­dent in­sisted that his com­mit­ment to pro­tect­ing pub­lic health is “un­wa­ver­ing,” and White House of­fi­cials said the ac­tion — which the busi­ness com­mu­nity read­ily wel­comed — had noth­ing to do with in­dus­try pres­sure.

“I will con­tinue to stand with the hard­work­ing men and women at the EPA as they strive ev­ery day to hold pol­luters ac­count­able and pro­tect our fam­i­lies from harm­ful pol­lu­tion,” Mr. Obama said in a state­ment, pledg­ing to thwart any at­tempts to weaken the Clean Air Act.

His words weren’t enough for en­vi­ron­men­tal groups.

Frances Bei­necke, pres­i­dent of the Nat­u­ral Re­sources De­fense Coun­cil, ac­cused Mr. Obama of “sid­ing with cor­po­rate pol­luters over the Amer­i­can peo­ple.”

“The Clean Air Act clearly re­quires the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency to set pro­tec­tive stan­dards against smog — based on sci­ence and the law,” Ms. Bei­necke said. “The White House now has pol­luted that process with pol­i­tics.”

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion pre­vi­ously said that the ozone stan­dard of 75 parts per bil­lion, set by the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion in 2008, was based on out­dated sci­ence. EPA Ad­min­is­tra­tor Lisa P. Jack­son had pushed for a tougher stan­dard ahead of the reg­u­larly sched­uled five-year re­view in 2013.

En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists say the ad­min­is­tra­tion is risk­ing the health of Amer­i­cans by scrap­ping that ef­fort. Point­ing to the EPA’s own data, the NRDC said a stricter ozone stan­dard of 70 parts per bil­lion would re­sult in 4,300 fewer pre­ma­ture deaths and 2,200 fewer heart at­tacks an­nu­ally by 2020.

“This is a huge win for cor­po­rate pol­luters and huge loss for pub­lic health,” said Gene Karpin­ski, pres­i­dent of the League of Con­ser­va­tion Vot­ers.

The aban­doned rules to in­crease air qual­ity mark the lat­est dis­ap­point­ment for en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivists who helped pro­pel Mr. Obama to vic­tory in 2008.

The pres­i­dent used his first two years to push through over­hauls of the na­tion’s health care and fi­nan­cial-reg­u­la­tory sys­tems, ef­fec­tively con­ced­ing that “cap-and-trade” leg­is­la­tion to re­duce green­house gases was all but im­pos­si­ble to en­act by the time Repub­li­cans took con­trol of the House this year.

Mr. Obama fur­ther roiled en­vi­ron­men­tal groups when his ad­min­is­tra­tion lifted the mora­to­rium on deep-water drilling that he im­posed in the wake of the BP PLC oil spill in the Gulf of Mex­ico and, more re­cently, is­sued a pos­i­tive en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ment of the pro­posed Key­stone XL pipe­line, which would carry oil from Canada through six states.

In its de­fense, the White House said that Mr. Obama had notched some vic­to­ries on en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues over the past 2 1/2 years, such as di­rect­ing bil­lions of dol­lars to clean en­ergy and en­ergy-ef­fi­ciency pro­grams in the eco­nomic stim­u­lus pack­age and is­su­ing tougher fu­ele­con­omy stan­dards for cars and light trucks and the first-ever stan­dards for medium-and heavy-duty trucks.

“The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has taken un­prece­dented steps for­ward to pro­tect the pub­lic health of Amer­i­can fam­i­lies by re­duc­ing harm­ful air pol­lu­tion,” Heather Zichal, deputy as­sis­tant to the pres­i­dent for en­ergy and cli­mate change, wrote in a blog post on White­House.gov just af­ter the ozone an­nounce­ment. “Taken to­gether, the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s clean-air achieve­ments will pro­duce enor­mous ben­e­fits for pub­lic health and the environment — while pro­mot­ing the na­tion’s con­tin­ued eco­nomic growth and well-be­ing.”

For many en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists, though, the list of ac­com­plish­ments has been over­shad­owed by what they see as missed op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Although the ad­min­is­tra­tion has not made a fi­nal rec­om­men­da­tion on the pipe­line, the State Depart­ment’s find­ings prompted scores of pro­test­ers to camp out in front of the White House. Dozens of the ac­tivists, in­clud­ing actresses Margot Kid­der and Daryl Han­nah, were ar­rested at the “sit-in.”

In spite of the high-pro­file crit­i­cism, Mr. Obama’s ac­tions ap­pear to re­flect pop­u­lar opinion: Polls show the environment is a rel­a­tively low pri­or­ity for the av­er­age voter dur­ing a re­ces­sion.

A Gallup sur­vey from March showed that Amer­i­cans pri­or­i­tize eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment over en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion at a rate of 54 per­cent to 36 per­cent — the widest mar­gin since Gallup first asked the ques­tion in 1984. Since that time, the poll­ster said, Amer­i­cans gen­er­ally fa­vored the environment over the econ­omy.

“Peo­ple def­i­nitely want to pro­tect the environment, but when the econ­omy isn’t good, it takes a back seat,” said Jef­frey Jones, man­ag­ing editor of the Gallup Poll.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Ac­tress Daryl Han­nah is ar­rested Aug. 30 by U.S. Park Po­lice near the White House dur­ing a protest against the pro­posed Key­stone XL multistate oil pipe­line. The pipe­line would have a min­i­mal en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact, the ad­min­is­tra­tion says.

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