The July Media Rants
column looks at what we can expect from Barack Obama's administration as regards the environment. Here it is:
On June 16th, the Obama Administration released a report
announcing that the effects of global warming are real, occurring in the present, and require immediate action. The report assesses regional impacts of climate change, and concludes that the Midwest
will experience increasing heat waves, reduced air quality, more periods of flooding and draught, difficulties in crop management, and other maladies. Jane Lubchenco, undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said that “This report stresses that climate change has immediate and local impacts – it literally affects people in their backyards.”
Did the report’s dire pronouncements dominate the media landscape, even for a few days? Nope. Corporate media coverage paled in comparison to the daily briefings on Jon and Kate’s
“announcement.” No surprises there; it takes less journalistic resources to cover the dissolution of a TV marriage than the death of the Earth. If they’d lived in biblical times, today’s news producers would be more interested in Noah’s marital status than the impending flood.
During the presidential campaign of 2008, mainstream media portrayed Barack Obama and John McCain—inaccurately I argued in these pages
—as environmental reformers. The mainstream environmental movement strongly supported Obama’s candidacy and continues to be enthusiastic. Indeed, the President’s announcement that environmental policies will be guided by scientific integrity, rule of law, and transparency provides a basis for optimism. Additionally, the Administration deserves kudos for its candor about the reality of climate change. But realistically, what can we expect from the Obama Administration?
Let’s start by looking at Obama’s cabinet appointments, dubbed an environmental “Green Dream Team”
by Wisconsin State Rep. Spencer Black (D-Madison). Energy Secretary Steven Chu is a brilliant, Nobel prize winning physicist. He also happens to be a major advocate
of nuclear power, which he views as playing a “significant and growing role” in our energy future.
Environmental Protection Agency chief Lisa Jackson is the first African-American to hold that post. She’s tough and competent, but critics of her performance
as head of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection claim she was much too close to industry. The Center For Public Integrity found that Jackson had allowed outsourcing of toxic cleanup in New Jersey, a practice that allows polluters to profit from their own pollution.Carol Browner
, former EPA chief under Clinton, heads the newly created “Energy Coordinator” position. With tons of experience and knowledge of how Washington works (she’s married to Thomas Downey, a former Congressman and now corporate lobbyist
), Browner has the ability to move the administration’s environmental agenda forward.
But what is that agenda? On Earth Day, the President himself said
that “as we transition to renewable energy, we can and should increase our domestic production of oil and natural gas. We also need to find safer ways to use nuclear power and store nuclear waste.” He’s serious: Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar refuses to rule out the possibility of expanded offshore drilling for oil and gas. And given the fact that the Obama campaign received hundreds of thousands of dollars from employees of Exelon, the nation’s largest nuclear power plant operator, we should be prepared to hear nukes touted as “green.”
The President does not support a moratorium on the building of coal fired plants, but does promote “clean coal” technology. He’s committed $145 billion for alternative energy over 10 years, which is about 0.1 percent of GDP. By way of comparison, the military budget for 2010 ALONE is $664 billion.
The Obama Administration recently announced a national standard for automobile fuel efficiency, which will go into effect in 2012. The fact that the automobile industry endorsed the standards should send up red flags. Why? Because the executives understand that national standards prevent even more strict action at the state level.
Perhaps the centerpiece of Obama’s environmental program is his proposal for a “cap and trade” program to control industrial greenhouse gas emissions. Critics claim that cap and trade hasn’t worked in Europe and represents a sellout to big industry polluters. Writing in Counterpunch, Jeff St. Clair and Joshua Frank
argue that Obama “refuses to consider strict regulation let alone a carbon tax to address the country’s big CO2 emitters. Instead, after intense pressure from the pollution lobby, Obama’s approach to attacking with climate change has been whittled down to nothing more than weak market-driven economics that can too easily be manipulated politically. Polluters will be let off the hook as they can simply relocate or build new infrastructure in places where there are few or no carbon regulations.”Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) argues
that cap and trade could lead to the same type of unregulated Wall Street money-making schemes that fueled the current recession: "I have serious concerns about how a cap-and-trade program might allow Wall Street to distort a carbon market for its own profits.”
After years of disappointment from Clinton and hostility from Bush, the mainstream environmental movement appears happy just to have a “friend” in Washington. The wiser elements of that movement recognize that local grassroots activism, not charismatic politicians in Washington, is what’s needed to save the planet. Backyard problems need neighborhood action, no matter who occupies the White House.