With President Obama winning the 2012 election, many environmentalists and clean energy advocates were overjoyed. Whether that joy came from him winning or Mitt Romney losing is up for debate. Regardless, the president has four more years in office, and he can do a lot for the climate. He has already banned uranium mining in the Grand Canyon, doubled fuel efficiency requirements in vehicles, and set carbon standards on new coal power plants. When former President George W. Bush opened public lands with oil shale production, one of [President Obama’s] first acts was to cancel the leasing plan, (Klare, Race for What’s Left, Location 1905 of 6515). He promised mitigation right after his election victory, stating, “We want our children to live in an America that isn’t… threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet. Here are seven of the MANY actions the president could take to help the climate:
-Renew the Wind Production Tax Credit (PTC)
President Obama hopefully has enough political influence in Congress to renew the tax credit for wind energy. Wind and solar power have doubled during the president’s time in office, and this measure would ensure its gradual success. The initial PTC was passed by Republican President George H.W. Bush, and the modern Republicans still have much to gain from the program. Since 81 percent of the installed wind capacity in the U.S. lies in red states, the President could appease clean energy Democrats and Republicans across the aisle. As many as 37,000 jobs depend on the outcome of the legislation, so he should emphasize the danger of failing to renew the credit.
-Step up to the climate plate!
President Obama has commented in Rolling Stone Magazine, MTV Studios, and only briefly in his second election victory speech. Otherwise, he has been harmfully silent on the matter, refraining from mentioning it in the 2012 state of the union address. Natural disasters have increased the public’s awareness of climate change, and some notable strategists even suggest that Hurricane Sandy won him the election. The Pentagon has his back, and he does not need to worry about losing the next election. Even if obstructionism in the U.S. government limits effective action, he still could strongly influence global climate policy. Heck, he doesn’t even need Congress to get domestic climate legislation passed.
Although this is unlikely he will carry this out, a punitive carbon tax would be the most free market solution to mitigating climate change. As I’ve mentioned before, the tax would carry favor from many fossil fuel companies and opponents in office. California recently approved its new carbon cap and trade program, which the country will likely incorporate later. (California leads on most environmental action, and the country follows suit.)
-Continue to improve the air quality.
Under the Obama Administration, the Maximum Available Control Technology (MACT) Rule was passed, forcing power plants to remove up neurotoxic mercury from the emissions streams of power plants. The administration also limited carbon and soot pollution from power plants and many pollutants from automobiles. While these achievements are laudable, he could also listen to the EPA and enact more effective regulations on ozone and other pollutants. The president could also force coal ash to be regulated as hazardous waste, as it is toxic and more radioactive than nuclear emissions.
– Clean up the elections and corporate power.
While this does not directly impact the state of the climate, election reform would do wonders for it over time. With the Koch Brothers planning to funnel over $400 million into election-related expenditures, I expect it is much less about charitable concern for government effectiveness than it is a business investment to allow for more deregulation and watered down environmental laws. The ballot initiatives for stopping unlimited corporate campaign spending won by a 3 to 1 margin even in red states, and more states are continuing to address the issue.
-Get oil out of the White House.
The president has not exactly been a champion of preventing oil drilling. In his first term, he had “decided to open up to drilling not only a large area of the eastern Gulf of Mexico, but also a long stretch of the Atlantic coast as well as portions of the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas abutting Alaska, all of which had previously been off-limits,” (Klare, Race for What’s Left, Location 855 of 6515). The top five oil companies made a combined $90 billion in profits already in 2012, produced less oil, and all paid below a 20% tax rate. Yet still, Obama relentlessly praised increased oil drilling. The two largest oil spills in the nation’s history occurred under the Obama administration, and he has even been called the ‘Oil President’. Obama should tone down the support for oil drilling and call for Susan Rice to sell her Canadian tar sands money should she become the new Secretary of State. Now the election is over, he can tell the truth about the White House’s influence on gas prices, which is and should be very little.
-Stop repeating the “environment vs. economy” fallacy.
The president’s speech on climate action emphasized that action that would not interfere with job and economic growth. This outlook is perhaps the most damaging to long term action to mitigate climate change. GDP and environmental damage are inextricably linked, yet inaction on the climate just creates a “false economy” for which future generations must pay. A top GE excecutive called the false dichotomy between the economy and environment “nonsense.” Of course jobs are an important issue in a recovering economy, but a job is not just a job. The type, longevity, quality, and purpose of the emerging employment opportunities will shape the United States’ direction for the upcoming decades. Instead of ignoring the war, climate change, infrastructure, or numerous other issues that actually matter, create jobs that lessen the negative impacts of those issues. Then, citizens would not need to pay large taxes to fight unnecessary wars, and money spent on retroactive climate “cures” could instead be invested in clean, American-made energy.
In terms of legislative action, I have always seen the president as a moderate Republican. Thus, I expect some of these ideas to come to fruition, yet many do not stand a chance. His success in environmental protection has been marginally effective, but his apparent love of oil drilling and could prove detrimental in his second term. As one final symbolic measure, the president should re-install solar panels onto the White House, marking a key time to shift to renewable energy and away from climate change.