Sunday, September 4, 2011

EPA Ruling Fallout: short-term goals put ecology & environment in back seat

On Friday, the Obama administration backed off of it's plan to initiate strong standards for the reduction of ground-level ozone (smog) - standards recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and its independent scientific advisers. After three years of championing the cause of setting realistic standards in terms of public and environmental health - standards by which would compel the energy industry to evaluate their current business models and be forward-thinking in the adoption of new technologies and business opportunities - the White House abruptly turned its back, instructing EPA administrator Lisa Jackson to withdraw the proposed regulations.

According to the New York Times, John D. Walke, clean air director of the advocacy group Natural Resources Defense Council, likened the ozone decision to a “bomb being dropped.”

While environmental groups are, to put it mildly, disappointed in the President's action, lobbyists for the energy industry and other business interests are more than pleased. "The president's decision is good news for the economy and Americans looking for work. EPA's proposal would have prevented the very job creation that President Obama has identified as his top priority," said Jack Gerard, president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute".

The Associated Press reported, "The withdrawal of the proposed EPA rule comes three days after the White House identified seven such regulations that it said would cost private business at least $1 billion each. The proposed smog standard was estimated to cost anywhere between $19 billion and $90 billion, depending on how strict it would be. However, the Clean Air Act does not allow the EPA to consider how much it will cost to comply when picking a new standard."

What it all points to is the short-term mentality that is so prevalent in today's social and economic fabric. The economic policies and strategies, both government and corporate, that brought us to our current condition were years, if not decades, in the making and, as much as we would like it to be otherwise, it will not be undone in a great hurry. Regardless of that reality, the demand for short-term, silver bullet solutions is front and center of the minds of Main Street Americans and the politicians whose eyes are on the prize in the next election.

Environmental issues, getting off of our dependence on fossil fuels, alternative energy, ocean conservation through commercial fishing management and aquaculture, protecting endangered species - all of these are problems that require long-term solutions supported by bold leadership. The solutions will produce economic opportunities, fertile ground for innovative thinking and technologies, new jobs and revenue. But they require many industries to reinvent themselves and, in light of business' ingrained aversion to that, the quick fix and turning back of the clock are more attractive choices.

While President Obama is a sharp intellectual, he is stuck in the mud with an obstructionist opposition party who is dying to return to the "good old days" and he is decidedly exhibiting a deficit in leadership that is leaving him perceived as a push-over or, even worse to some of his supporters, as a Democrat in name only. This certainly isn't the country that he had hope to inherit when he was elected and I'm not sure that anyone from either party would be standing tall today, given that so much has occurred over the past few years which in many ways has been outside of the government's control or influence. But nonetheless, he is the man of the moment and he has yet to prove himself to be the leader for these turbulent times, akin to an FDR or a Reagan (to appeal to both parties).

“I think that two-plus years into Obama’s presidency is more than enough time for him to have established a clear weak record,” said KierĂ¡n Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, which has been battling the president on endangered species. “The environmental movement needs to keep piling the pressure on and realizing playing nicey-nice won’t work.”

The Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council, The American Lung Association, and other organizations will be reanimating lawsuits first initiated to force the hand of the Bush administration but subsequently put on hold when Obama's earlier stated position on ozone favored the tighter regulations.

"The Obama administration is caving to big polluters at the expense of protecting the air we breathe," said Gene Karpinski, the president of the League of Conservation Voters to the Associated Press. "This is a huge win for corporate polluters and huge loss for public health."

Within today's socio-political climate where labeling just about anything as "anti-job" can bring about its defeat, the current administration has done an about-face on several important environmental issues from oil drilling to EPA standards. If this trend continues, he could be faced with a short-term legacy - a one-term presidency - and a long-term legacy of lost environmental and public health opportunities that will impact generations to come.

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