If you look at one or two segments of the Obama administration’s work — clean energy and energy efficiency — he looks like a total green leader. And as someone who covers those sectors for a living over on CleanTechnica, I can say that I am tremendously grateful for the great work the administration has done over the last few years to promote those win-win sectors. Both environmentally and economically, it is keeping hope alive.
However, clean energy and energy efficiency aren’t the only things to pay attention to — there’s also dirty energy. And, unfortunately, on the dirty energy front, the Obama administration has been far from a green leader.
Aside from opening up a large section of Wyoming to coal mining back in March, and not pushing hard for comprehensive climate change legislation, the most recent groundbreaking news is that an important, though not well-known, White House office is operating as ‘one-stop wrecking machine’ for numerous important environmental protections.
Yes, it is our worst fears. And it is not pretty.
Here’s more from the Guardian:
Barack Obama has been just as zealous as George Bush in stripping away environmental, health and safety protection at the behest of industry, it turns out.
Some environmental organisations were beginning to suspect this, after Obama over-ruled his scientific advisors and blocked stronger ozone standards. Now, a new report [pdf] from the Centre for Progressive Reform has dug up some key data revealing that the White House in the age of Obama has been just as receptive to the pleadings of industry lobbyists as it was in the Bush era. And it goes far beyond ozone.
Under Obama, a little known corner of the White House – known as the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, or Oira – has changed more than 80% of the rules proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency.
None of these were changes for the good, the report says.
“Every single study of its performance, including this one, shows that Oira serves as a one-way ratchet, eroding the protections that agency specialists have decided are necessary under detailed statutory mandates, following years — even decades — of work.”
No, this is not good, but, as the Guardian notes, it’s something many greens (including myself) have been suspicious of for a while.
Who’s the head of this Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs? Obama’s good friend Cass Sunstein, not the biggest fan of government regulations. And Sunstein apparently meets with a LOT of lobbyists, as they know that he is their last chance at axing regulations.
“A steady stream of industry lobbyists — appearing some 3,760 times over the ten-year period we studied — uses OIRA as a court of last resort when they fail to convince experts at agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to weaken pending regulations,” the reports says.
And from the Guardian:
Environmental regulations made up only 10% of Oira business in Bush’s time, but 36% of the office’s business was meeting with outside lobbyists.
Under Obama, Oira has dedicated more than half of its meetings, 51%, to discussing pending environmental regulations with industry lobbyists, the report says.
And for industry the meetings paid off – about as much under Obama as under Bush. Following those meetings with outsiders, Oira changed 84% of EPA rules during the Bush era. Depending on how you calculate it, the change rate was even higher under Obama. Oira changed 81% of environmental rules after meetings with lobbyists. But the change rate rises to 85% once all Oira decisions on environmental regulations are factored in.
“To us this is a sharp departure from what we were promised when this president was elected,” University of Maryland law professor Rena Steinzor said. “From sound practice what we really want is for the experts to be making decisions at government agencies – the toxicologists, the pediatricians, the geologists. That’s what modern government is supposed to be about, not having the decisions made by an office that is not accountable for what it does.”
Steinzor doesn’t think it’s possible that Obama doesn’t know about Sunstein’s work in this arena.
On top of all this, Obama’s representative in Durban has pissed off a lot of greens this past week by making a statement on the ‘lack of’ urgency of climate action that is completely out of sync with what the science says.
For a more positive perspective on Obama’s climate policies and action, you can check out a recent Climate Progress podcast with Carol Browner, Obama’s former “Climate Czar” and the longest-serving Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Suffice it to say, I’m leaning towards the side of Tim DeChristopher — Obama has let down the environmental movement on too many occasions. While I am quite likely to vote for him in 2012, I am not likely to campaign for him unless he changes course fast… which I’m not hopeful he’s going to do.
Obama photo via shutterstock