President Obama's environmental concessions (read: cave-ins) continue to pile up, and American environmentalists are rightly losing faith. His latest retreat, on ozone regulation, comes just days after the State Department gave the go-ahead for the controversial Keystone XL oil sands pipeline from Alberta to Texas. The smog announcement was conveniently released on Friday before the holiday weekend, when no one was listening.
For those of us with an interest in protecting the environment, this is getting painful to watch. There is the shock, the anger, the disillusionment. Bad feelings all.
"Rather than acting decisively to protect our kids from this dangerous air pollution, the White House today chose to kick the can down the road. Our kids, senior citizens and those suffering from respiratory problems will suffer as a consequence and certainly deserve better," wrote Glenn Hurowtiz for Grist. "Politically, this decision is going to further deflate environmentalists who are already frustrated with the administration's huge coal mining expansion, offshore oil drilling blitz and consideration of the Keystone X: tar-sands pipeline."
While we're not likely to see frustrated environmentalists jumping to the Republican side, Obama's flaky commitment to eco concerns will no doubt cause some political fallout.
Justin Ruben, executive director of MoveOn.org, a five-million-member organization that helped Obama get elected in 2008, told the New York Times he was sure that his members' enthusiasm would be sapped.
“How are our members in Ohio and Florida who pounded the pavement in 2008 going to make the case for why this election matters?” Mr. Ruben said. “Stuff like this is devastating to the hope and passion that fuels the volunteers that made the president’s 2008 campaign so unique and successful.”
The worst part is that abandoning tighter ozone regulations is not, as congressional Republicans and a few business groups have led Obama to believe, bad for the economy. Sure, they would have cost emitters money. But that investment creates jobs. Just ask Nobel laureate Paul Krugman:
[T]ighter ozone regulation would actually have created jobs: it would have forced firms to spend on upgrading or replacing equipment, helping to boost demand. Yes, it would have cost money — but that’s the point! And with corporations sitting on lots of idle cash, the money spent would not, to any significant extent, come at the expense of other investment.
So it was a bad call. What now? Keep fighting the fight. Public actions (like 350.org's pipeline protest in Washington) and lawsuits (like the American Lung Association's ozone litigation) are all we have to get — and keep — the president's attention.
Photo: Stacks, pipes and storage tanks along the Houston ship channel in Houston. (Pat Sullivan / AP)