Who will write the final word on President Obama’s economic and environmental legacy?
A Review of President Obama’s Economic and Environmental Record
Much has been made of the environmental record of the previous administration. But upon a closer review of the White House’s record, I must agree with New EPA Director Scott Pruitt in his recent interviews. President Obama was “no environmental savior.” Although, I have a couple of advantages that Director Pruitt didn’t have: I have had time to think about the Obama legacy and I have had time write about it in more detail.
According to the current mythology, there were a trilogy of environmental leaders—President Barack Obama, EPA’s Gina McCarthy and White House Special Advisor John Holdren. Together, they were in charge of policy-making and PR for all the new rule-making of the EPA for the last 8 years. The Clean Power Plan (CPP) and Waters of the US (WOTUS aka Clean Water Act) were undoubtedly the most far-reaching of the EPA’s nearly 4,000 new regulations, with the most impact on the American economy and environmental laws.
With this in mind, I will detail the economic and legal problems created by White House initiatives. Although, it is worth mentioning that there was a visible politicization of both regulations. “Denier” was heard far too often in any debate.
Also, almost the entire administration conducted a vigorous PR campaign around greenhouse gases, carbon reduction, the Paris Agreement, Climate Change and/or Global Warming, health issues like asthma, clean water and other related issues. There was little or nothing said about the impact on US economic development and the fundamental change of environmental regulations.
First, the economic problems created the CPP and WOTUS:
- Given the fact that the gestation of the final CPP was 4 or 5 years, replete with 3 almost entirely different iterations (with last one covering over 1500 pages), the whole process created large scale uncertainty for financial markets, publicly traded utilities and power plant construction.
- There was a flawed definition of “clean energy,” which didn’t include energy efficiency or cleaner fuels.
- The paucity of ideas surrounding efficient energy and energy efficiency and their contribution to emission reductions.
- It lacked a final cost/benefit analysis, which hid the fact that CPP would only reduce American emissions by 0.01 percent when completed.
- The White House was never really a participant in the burgeoning natural gas revolution, which has provided a whole new supply of natural gas, oil and feedstock. With little or no federal tax money, the evolution of fracking has changed the geopolitics of the world and the competitiveness of the US economy, with a large economic impact on the several states’ and their regional economies, like ND, TX, CO, NM, PA, OH, etc. 35 states in all have oil and/or gas.
- There was a federal administration indifference to the importance of new pipelines (e.g. The Keystone Pipeline and the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), which will upgrade transportation of oil from trains to safer, high tech infrastructure and will reduce the cost of each barrel shipped by over $10.00. If anything, President Obama sent a confusing message by saying “You’re making your voices heard” Standing Rock protesters in front of the 500 Native American leaders in Washington, DC and ABC News.
- While talking about the FCC’s net neutrality and EPA’s climate change, the Obama administration never quite understood that the Internet of Things (IOT)—the convergence of the Internet, technology and energy—was already transforming the American economy, without the need for the silo thinking of the EPA or the FCC’s micro-management. Also, this ongoing IOT convergence will continue to have a profoundly positive effect on the American environmental footprint.
Second, the legal and constitutional problems created by the CPP and WOTUS:
- The lack of focus on the quality of ambient air in US; After some research, I found that there was little good information about the 140 non-attainment zones in the US on the any of the federal Web sites.
- The writing of new law by a regulatory body has several issues: (1) It was never approved by the Congress, which is the only law-making body; (2) It was never offered as an Amendment to the Constitution, which would have needed a 2/3 majority of the states, 33, rather than the 16 declared supporting states; (3) The CCP used the “Chevron Doctrine,” which cedes power to the federal agency in some cases. In this case, the EPA used 111d of the Clean Air Act of 1997 which contained linguistic differences between the House and the Senate version.
- The enormous cost and time of litigating against the Federal Government for either the Clean Power Plan and Waters of the US. As the saying, the US government has more money than God.
- The overuse of Executive Orders for both set of regulations/laws.
- The EPA wanted to control many more waterways through WOTUS, without demonstrating any real competence for their current portfolio of waterways. The Colorado toxic spills and Flint, MI come to mind. In fact, the EPA didn’t even give early warning at the time to Colorado, New Mexico or the Native American tribes effected.
- The CPP and WOTUS rarely discussed the importance of good sanitation and reliable electricity to the health, environment and well-being of the US and the world at large.
- In the end, we all know that the Clean Power Plan and Waters of the US regulations never had a core constituency, any broad-based business support or congressional mandate. In a way, they were anti-democratic.
- They may have been well-meaning, but they represented a legal over-reach by the federal government, neither of which were ever confirmed by the Supreme Court to be the laws of America.
Yes, I realize that I have written 15 separate bones of contention about the idea that President Obama was “an environmental savior.” And yes, I know that Woodrow Wilson only had 14 Point in 1918 (and the Bible only has 10). Ultimately, no leader, no ideology, no country and arguably no United Nations are ever going be able to solve all of the world’s problems, especially poverty, alone. We need to acknowledge that there is a basic minimum for the people living on this planet: Global connections for all things, reliable electricity, efficient energy, clean water, healthy ambient air, and good sanitation in no particular order of importance. It’s time to jettison partisan politics and become practical environmentalists with evolution on our minds.