Barack Obama's sweeping attack on air pollution

 

The day after the November 2010 elections made clear President Barack Obama's greenhouse-gas legislation was doomed, he vowed to keep trying to curb emissions linked to global warming. There's more than one way of "skinning the cat," he told reporters.

Since then, Obama has used his executive powers — including his authority under the 1970 Clean Air Act — to press the most sweeping attack on air pollution in U.S. history. He has imposed the first carbon-dioxide limits on new power plants, tightened fuel-efficiency rules as part of the auto bailout and steered billions of federal dollars to clean-energy projects. He also has proposed slashing mercury emissions from utilities by 91 percent by 2016.

Obama's end run around Republican opposition has delighted environmentalists, but it has drawn the ire of business groups and conservatives who argue he is crippling the coal industry, driving up energy costs and hurting the overall economy.

"Environmental regulation should be about protecting public health, and not about creating green jobs and mitigating hypothetical risk," said Diane Katz, research fellow in regulatory policy at the conservative Heritage Foundation. "Being unemployed and poor from overregulation, or zealous regulation, is a greater risk than global warming."

When Obama was elected in 2008, environmentalists were confident their most-cherished goals — ending coal-fired power plants, limiting greenhouse-gas emissions and invoking new protections for public lands — were finally within reach.

Following up on a campaign promise, the president backed legislation that would slash America's carbon output by 80 percent by 2050. Under the proposed cap-and-trade legislation, companies would buy and sell emissions credits allowing them to pollute more.

The bill was passed by the House, which at the time was controlled by Democrats, but in June 2009 it was blocked in the Senate by Republicans and moderate Democrats. When Republicans won control of the House in the 2010 elections, the bill was dead.

The administration turned to the Clean Air Act, which Obama allies said the president became familiar with while serving on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Using the law's extensive authority, the administration issued six major environmental rules, including ones that placed limits on toxic air pollutants, greenhouse gases, soot and smog-forming pollutants.

The strategy was bolstered by some outside factors. Its effort to limit carbon emissions was benefited by the natural-gas boom; many utilities are switching from coal to natural gas, which is more economical and emits much less carbon. The automobile bailout gave Obama the leverage to impose tougher fuel-efficiency standards, and the Environmental Protection Agency faced several lawsuits pending from the Bush administration that needed to be resolved.

Obama's standards for new vehicles, said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, rank as "the biggest move to get us off our oil dependence by any president ever." The rules, which took effect this year, will require the U.S. auto fleet to average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.

Heather Zichal, deputy assistant to the president for energy and climate change, said the administration's array of environmental rules go to the "sweet spot of energy security, economic opportunity and reducing pollution," and fit into a favorite Obama theme during the 2008 campaign.

But the business community argues that the regulations are heavy-handed and are hurting the nation's economic security.

"The utility sector, which we consider a part of the manufacturing sector, has been hit extremely hard," said Ross Eisenberg, vice president of energy and resources at the National Association of Manufacturers.

Utilities, he said, are shuttering older plants and holding off expanding existing ones out of fear that the EPA will deny them permits.

Last month, urged on by several business and energy groups, the GOP-controlled House passed the Stop the War on Coal Act, which would reverse several Obama regulations and proposals. It would bar the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases, jettison the stricter fuel standards and give states primary authority over the storage and disposal of coal-combustion waste. But that bill has little chance in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Because the administration, faced by partisan polarization, has moved ahead on its own, opportunities for compromise have been lost, some say. Eisenberg notes that during former president Bill Clinton's second term, the two parties negotiated passage of such significant environmental laws as the 1996 Safe Drinking Water Act.

"The big difference is you had a Congress and an administration a little bit willing to work together on the issues, he said.

Obama has disappointed environmentalists in some cases.

In September 2011, he decided to pull back an EPA proposal to limit ozone emissions linked to smog, on the grounds that it would hurt the economy and the government would revisit the issue in 2013 anyway. The business community praised the move, while environmentalists said it was irresponsible.

The administration also has been criticized by some environmentalists for not moving to create new wilderness areas, in which development and energy extraction would be barred. Only Congress can designate wilderness but the president can bestow similar protections by creating national monuments through the 1906 Antiquities Act.

"It's not something they're making a priority," said Heidi McIntosh, associate director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. She said administration officials have been unwilling to overrule the objections of state and local officials on several key land-use issues.

Barring a last-minute development, the current Congress will be the first since 1966 to fail to designate a single wilderness area. Obama has recently declared a few national monuments based on their historic or cultural significance, including Colorado's Chimney Rock, and has forged private-public partnerships to preserve working landscapes in states such as Florida and Kansas.

Obama has spent only a brief amount of time visiting national parks, and the National Park Service budget has declined 6 percent in the past two years.

Both Obama friends and foes agree on one thing: The president will probably pursue an even more aggressive environmental agenda if reelected.

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., said in a statement he would expect Obama to push for more national monument designations in a second term. "From nearly day one," he said, "the Obama Administration has attempted to impose policies that would block public access to public lands and cause significant economic harm and job loss."

When it comes to putting more public land off limits to development, he added, "Such decisions should not be made by unilateral orders from the president" using a 106-year old law.

Environmental leaders expect Obama to try to take tougher action on limiting greenhouse-gas emissions from existing power plants if reelected.

Obama hinted as much during a speech to a crowd of Colorado State University students in August.

"We're on track to emit fewer greenhouse gases this year than we have in nearly 20 years," he said. "You can keep those trends going. That all happened because of you."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: SThree were established in 1986....

Recruitment Genius: SAGE Bookkeeper & PA to Directors

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map