Friday, May 04, 2018

Barack Obama’s Environmental Legacy: A Mixed Bag but Progress in the Right Direction

President Barack Obama passed legislation and enacted, via executive order, significant environmental protections and green energy initiatives during his two terms in office. More could’ve have been accomplished had he possessed a like-minded Congress that supported his agenda. Democrats only held the majority in Congress from 2009 through 2010 of Obama’s first term. However, over the following six years, the President would find his agenda and policies stymied at every turn by Republicans, hence, his use of executive orders.

Obama's environmental legacy has received mixed reviews all along the political spectrum.  Criticisms on the left are that he did not go far enough, especially regarding climate legislation; while the right insists he went too far with his “job-killing” regulations. Below are some articles that critique President Obama’s environmental and clean energy policies.

Forum:  Assessing Obama’s Record on the Environment via Yale Environment 360 (July 25, 2011)

11 Problems with President Obama’s Climate Change Plan via The Daily Signal (June 26, 2013)

Here is a short list of Obama’s environmental achievements (You can see the entire list and read about them in Obama’s Remarkable Environmental Achievements via Legal Planet, November 2, 2016.):

  • Jumpstarted the green economy
  • Greenhouse gas (GHG) standards for new vehicles
  • GHG standards for power plants and factories
  • Mercury controls for power plants
  • Established more national monuments than any other president in history
  • Designated some 580,000 square miles of ocean off Hawaii as a national monument
  • Signed the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act
  • Blocked construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline
  • Brought 299 species under the protection of the Endangered Species Act
  • Set energy efficiency standards for commercial conditioners and furnaces
  • Stricter air quality control standards
  • Negotiated the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement (Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the agreement on June 1, 2017.)

Environmentalists and clean-energy activists were expecting this trend of environmental-friendly regulations and policies to continue with the election of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the presidency. That hope was crushed on November 8, 2016, with the election of Donald Trump. Republicans would now hold power in the executive and legislative branches of government. With that power structure in place, an all-out assault would take place on environmental and green-energy policies as well as on the Environmental Protection Agency itself, especially with the appointment of former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to be the agency administrator.

Pruitt filed fourteen lawsuits against the EPA as Oklahoma's attorney general. He has close ties throughout the fossil fuel industry, an industry he is now employed to oversee and regulate. Pruitt has certainly made those hostile to the EPA happy with the actions he's taken since his appointment. Now, however, Mr. Pruitt finds himself mired in controversy due to ethical challenges and lavish spending habits using taxpayer money. He has also been deregulating at an alarming pace. We will examine his impact since taking hold of the reins at the EPA in the next post.   

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