The Impact of the Obama Administration on the Environment

The Obama-Biden administration is regarded as the greenest and the most environmentally conscious administration of the twenty-first century (Hobson). President Obama is a godsend to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and its supporters who have experienced an uphill climb to pass effective regulation during the previous administration (Adler 421). Through leading the charge to pass meaningful reform and reversing hazardous Bush Era policies, President Obama, and his administration, have substantially affected the environment for the better, despite having to overcome many political roadblocks.

In the eyes of the public, the president is ultimately responsible for everything that happens in this country and everything this country is involved in around the world. This is because the office of the president is regarded as the most powerful position in the world (Killough). With this kind of power, there is an even greater expectation to keep promises made along the campaign trail. If a president cannot keep his promise, who else in the government can? With great power comes great expectation.

When Barack Obama swore in as the 44th President of the United States – expectations levied upon the office grew exponentially greater. President Obama is now not only the most powerful man in the world – he is the first African-American to hold the office (“Barack Obama”). He draws attention for being a powerful orator and for making lots of big promises. The pressure to produce results must be staggering!

“Environmental leaders and activists are hoping Obama will distinguish himself not only as our first black president but as our first truly green president as well. Green groups are clamoring for him to strengthen regulations, cap carbon emissions and begin the hard road to a clean energy economy,” Doug Moss, a contributing writer for the Environmental Magazine wrote (1).

Moss also cited two lines from President Obama’s inaugural speech that highlighted his commitment to pushing toward a greener America. As President Obama looked out into the crowd of 1.8 million people, he addressed the world, “to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to the suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it” (qtd. in Moss 1).

It had always been clear that President Obama intended to change how the United States conducted business, especially where environmental matters were concerned. But, in stating his ambition before the 1.8 million people who standing in the National Mall, plus the countless viewers on television, he had locked himself into a commitment with the American people and the world without room for a caveat. Certainly, a big promise to keep!

He may or may not have considered the gravity of the challenge he was undertaking, but he is definitely committed. Changing the way America conducts her business is no simple task. The consequence of change is always a strong opposition, which has arisen to block the sweeping reforms needed to keep his promise.

Luckily, for the President, he has just as many fans as he does detractors to help cheer him forward. The resounding support for President Obama comes from those who had waited for so long for a president at least willing to considering pursuing environmental reform. “This is a 180­ degree turn,” Anna Aurilio, Washington office director for the advocacy group Environment America, said, “We just came off of an administration that was not only hostile to regulating climate change but would go through scientific reports and scrub [any] mention of global warming out” (Hobson).

In the early days of his term, his fans hailed President Obama as “the greenest White House in history, one that is rapidly reinvigorating federal environmental policy in a quest to deliver on the president’s campaign promises” (Hobson). Even before the President had accomplished anything on his agenda, his supporters were already claiming him to be the champion of environmental reform. It is easy to see how green-spirited the Obama White House is when juxtaposed with the track record of the previous administration.

The Bush-Cheney administration did a lot to inhibit environmental progress. That was the opinion of Lisa Jackson, the EPA administrator. She reportedly told the National Journal that, “Too often [under President Bush] this agency seemed to go out of its way to ignore the science or ignore the law, or find somewhat tortured interpretations of law that at the end of the day didn’t hold up” (qtd. in Hobson 1).

The Bush-Cheney administration’s inhibition of environmental progress is exemplified in the Endangered Species Act (ESA). According to Charlotte Garvey, of the Washington Letter on Transportation, the Bush policy, “would give the U.S. Department of Transportation and other federal agencies the right to bypass consultation with other agencies about the ESA impacts of federally funded projects” (1). In other words, if the U.S. Department of Transportation or any other department wanted to build a new road, under Bush, they would no longer need to be concerned about endangering any species in the region. There would no longer be a need to consult with experts to see what the effects a project might have on a region environmentally. They could just go on ahead and build with complete disregard for the ecosystem that previously existed there.

Margaret Hobson, an environmental correspondent for the Nation Journal notes that “in 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that EPA has the authority under that law to regulate global warming pollutants if evidence shows that they endanger public health and welfare. The Bush White House refused to exercise that power” (Hobson 1).

Of course, the Bush-Cheney administration does not hold all the blame, “Neither the Clinton nor Bush Administrations [were] eager to unleash the power of the Clean Air Act on GHGs” (Alder). The difference is that the Bush-Cheney administration, “prevented California and 12 other states from issuing stricter fuel-emission standards for automobiles than the national level,” who had requested waivers to address greenhouse gases, also known as GHGs (“Obama Flexes”). The “Bush administration’s EPA denied the waiver request, saying it would create a confusing patchwork of state rules” (Davidson).

Furthermore, the Bush EPA discarded an effort made by the Clinton administration in the late 1990s. The Clinton administration had assembled a team of experts to draft regulations for curbing mercury emission.

Instead of supporting the effort, the Bush EPA opted to allow electric companies to trade mercury emission credits that would allow a plant to legally emit more than recommended. In a sense, these credits could be compared to the indulgences sold by the Catholic Church in the 1500s. The Bush EPA was granting power plants waivers to commit mercury emission sins.

Critics of the program complained that this would result in higher concentrations of mercury near plants that had racked up more emission credits. Eventually, to the relief of these critics, the courts scrapped the program.

President Bush had said that the United States “must address” the threat of global warming and pointed to policies in place intended to “reduce the risk,” but was not willing to go beyond that (Alder).

So, after experiencing eight years of the Bush-Cheney administration and the consequences that followed – it is easy to point out the stark contrasts with the Obama-Biden administration. The Obama-Biden administration is clearly the greener choice of the two administrations in the twenty-first century. President Obama intends to right the wrongs of the previous administration and makes America environmentally friendly.

Where President Bush, in his last days of office, attempted to remove certain species of gray wolves from the protection of the Endangered Species Act, one of President Obama’s first acts was to suspend a pending decision to do so (Moss). President Obama also put a halt to the Bush Era Endangered Species Act altogether (Garvey).

Unlike his predecessor, President Obama did not hesitate to use the power invested in him by the Clean Air Act on GHGs. President Obama was quoted in The New American magazine as saying:

We will start by implementing new standards for model year 2011 so that we use less oil and families have access to cleaner, more efficient cars and trucks…. And that’s why I’m directing the Environmental Protection Agency to immediately review the denial of the California waiver request and determine the best way forward. This will help us create incentives to develop new energy that will make us less dependent on oil that endangers our security, our economy, and our planet. (8)

As seen we have seen with the Bush-Cheney administration, the best way for a president to address environmental concerns, or to ignore them, is to leverage his power over the EPA.
The EPA is the regulating arm of the federal government that is responsible for protecting not only the environment but human health as well. The EPA can accomplish this by writing and enforcing regulations that are within the powers granted by Congress and the Constitution.

The president’s leveraging power over the EPA is in his power to appoint and remove the EPA administrator at will. Lisa Jackson is the twelfth administrator of the EPA. She was appointed by President Obama and currently works closely with him to pass environmental reforms. His power over her “is essential to his ability to execute the law,” and this is how he impacts the environment indirectly (Westmoreland 232-234).

Therefore, the effectiveness of the EPA is determined by the attitude of a president toward the environment and regulation. This is why on day one, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger sent a letter to President Obama asking him to reconsider a request, which had previously been denied by the Bush-Cheney administration, to waive the Clean Air Act for the State of California. Governor Schwarzenegger did this because he recognized that he had an ally in the White House. Through the EPA, President Obama had the power to indirectly grant California the right to enforce stricter vehicle emissions codes than were currently enforced by the Federal Government (Moresco).

The president appoints like-minded individuals to the agencies responsible for regulating various activities. In doing so, the president has in one action set off a chain of events that will eventually impact the environment for the better or the worse.

According to Governor Schwarzenegger’s letter, California “and a number of farsighted states have sought to enforce a common­sense policy to reduce global warming pollution from passenger vehicles.” Governor Schwarzenegger believed that the Obama-Biden administration had “a unique opportunity to both support the pioneering leadership of these states and move America toward global leadership on addressing climate change” (Moresco).

Six months later the EPA under the direction of President Obama granted California along with the other twelve the GHG waiver enabling them to enforce its standards on new motor vehicles (Sectors, New Releases). With the power to enforce stricter regulations on GHGs in California, President Obama, through the EPA has potentially affected the emissions of 31 million motor vehicles alone (“California Department”).

The result, of the new mileage regulations when applied across the entire United States will decrease GHG emissions by “2 billion tons over the lifetimes of vehicles purchased during the 2016-2025 time frame… [Overall] 6 billion tons of greenhouse-gas emissions would be cut over the life of the programs” (Clayton, Does your car). Lisa Jackson says, “[It] will save them money, reduce our nation’s oil consumption and cut harmful emissions in the air we breathe” (qtd. in Clayton, Does your car).

For the consumer, the new policy will significantly reduce their number of trips to the pump. This will ultimately lop off 4 billion barrels from the nation’s total oil consumption over the lifetime of the vehicle. The economy will be stimulated, as consumers who wish to enjoy these benefits must purchase new vehicles. In the short-term, this will reduce, “America’s oil consumption by 2.2 million barrels per day – enough to offset nearly a quarter of today’s foreign-oil imports” (Clayton, Does your car).

The reductions in oil consumption are not only good for the economy, consumers’ pocketbooks, and the environment, but also, the decreased dependence on a non-renewable resource would prove to be a strategic move for the United States. Eventually, the world will be forced to find an alternative source of energy – it would be wise to start working on that now.

Despite Obama’s early successes, many of his supporters feared that his environmental team would, “hit a political brick wall as agriculture and coal lobbyists ramp up their opposition” (Hobson).

Congressman Waxman believes that Obama’s setting of “achievable limits on dangerous carbon pollution, spurs investments in new clean energy technologies, and provides certainty for the industry” (Clayton, EPA Issues). If Obama continues to take action despite the opposition that will consequently arise, Waxman says that “It shows the president is listening to scientists, not extremists who deny the existence of climate change (Clayton, EPA Issues).

Although the office of the president is the most powerful in the world, the opposition that comes from Conservatives is still a major hindrance to enacting environmental reform. Conservatives believe that environmental reform will have “a dangerous impact on the U.S. economy while it is in a fragile state” (“Obama flexes”). According to their view mandating stricter standards on companies will fail, because, innovation does not come from the government, innovation is a product of the free market (“Obama flexes”).

With enough like-minded individuals banning together to share this common view, it becomes easier to develop cases that can slow or overturn the Obama-Biden administration’s efforts. One such example of this is the case that was being made against the Obama-Biden administration’s authority. According to the opposition, “the federal government has no constitutional authority to mandate these standards. The Constitution does not grant power to the federal government to regulate the design specifications of private manufacturers” (“Obama Flexes”). John K. Westmoreland believes that the challenge to Obama’s authority would prove to be a formidable challenge as the majority of the presiding federal judges lean toward the conservative interpretation of the Constitution.

The opposition also accuses the President’s policy of doing the exact opposite of what was advertised. Sam Kazman of the Competitive Enterprise Institute claims that the President is too eager to ignore several hidden negatives outlined in his plan. Kazman says that “Federal fuel economy standards are already a huge hidden burden on the industry, and the President is now proposing they make that burden even heavier. Congress is spending billions to bail out the auto industry, and here’s the President coming up with new ways to sink it” (“Obama Flexes”).

The President’s opposition is not just from his fellow politicians on the opposite side of the aisle, it’s from the presidents of various industrial associations. For example, the president of the National Mining Association, Hal Quinn, said that the “EPA’s proposal for controlling greenhouse gas emissions from about half the nation’s electric power supply is a poorly disguised cap and tax scheme that represents energy and economic policy at its worst” (Clayton, EPA Issues).

Even a group of fellow Democrats opposes the President. The Rust Belt Democrats are said to have been “hatching plans to block enforcement of those rules the Democratic leadership appears committed to fighting whatever strategy opponents to the regulations employ”. For this reason, Obama has been hesitant to rely on the EPA, rather than legislation, to enact reforms, such as limits on carbon emission (Harder). The legislation is a more solid approach to locking-in permanent change. Legislation will have a better chance of lasting just long enough to actually be enforced and have an impact on the environment. The EPA’s regulations can easily be suspended or reversed when a new administration takes office.

As discussed earlier, the opposition arising against GHG regulation and other reforms have taken shape in many forms including that of Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s (R. ­Alaska) proposed “resolution of disapproval” (Inhofe, Obama Still Backs). If passed by Congress, the resolution would only then require the signature of the President to overturn the “endangerment finding” that has empowered the EPA (Inhofe, Obama Still Backs). Obviously, President Obama would veto the resolution if it ever appeared on his desk, but in theory, this would ostracize the Obama-Biden administration politically. The result would be devastating to the Obama-Biden administration, as the EPA would appear to be the radical ambition of the President alone. Of course, this opposition fails to realize that the majority of Democrats who are not bound by monetary interests in the industries affected are most likely in support of the President’s agenda.

During his first campaign for the presidency, then-Senator Barack Obama called for America to take steps to address the “threat of global climate change.”  The “cap-and-trade” bill was one such attempt to address one of his top priorities. He wants to put into place legislation that will cut “GHG emissions in the United States by 80%,” by 2050 (Alder).

Despite the failure to pass the cap-and-trade bill in Congress the Obama-Biden administration proceeded to enact several regulatory measures aimed at reducing GHG emissions. By using the authority under the Clean Air Act and harnessing the power of existing statutes, the EPA and other regulatory agencies have expanded their power to cover GHG emissions and address them as a global warming.

What concerns Conservatives is that these initiatives dramatically expand the authority of the federal government over private economic activity. This expansion of Federal regulation is not the doing of the Obama-Biden administration, contrary to Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s premise for the resolution of disapproval. Yet, President Obama has not resisted this new authority, unlike his predecessors Bush and Clinton.

Not only does the Obama-Biden administration want to regulate GHGs by limiting the emissions from mobile sources, but he also wants to place restrictions on stationary sources, such as coal-fired power plants, as well. This will be accomplished by strictly regulating the construction of new coal-fired power plants. The new specs will limit each coal-fired power plant to a maximum of “1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per megawatt generated” (Clayton, EPA Issues). The EPA explains that even though the coal-fired power plants account for only 40 percent of the electricity generated for America’s cities, it also accounts for 40 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions. The new coal plants can use other technologies to meet the carbon dioxide requirements (Clayton, EPA Issues).

In conclusion, the President Bush and his administration were hostile to environmental reform even though President Bush had admitted that the threat of global warming needed to be addressed. His denial of GHG waivers to 12 states and his refusal to unleash the power of the Clean Air Act prove his administration’s overall ineffectiveness to address environmental concerns. Whether environmental concerns were not a major concern for the Bush-Cheney administration or were just plain ignore is open to debate. But, the Bush environmental legacy or lack thereof when juxtaposed with the following Obama-Biden administration highlights how anti-green the Bush White House was and how green the Obama White House truly is.

It was important that President Obama made these steps early – it would take a long fight to get his reforms passed and eventually enforced. The comment period alone on a proposal is 60 days. This period is intended to allow the public to give their input.

The opposition is simply unwilling to consider any of the President’s environmental policies, instead, they are intent on blocking them any way they can for any reason they can invent. Ultimately, the concern of the opposition is to protect the status quo of their private economic activities.

President Obama is not against the free enterprise system as some would suggest, but he is for transparency, accountability, and environmental responsibility. This means that President Obama understands that it may be profitable to build a road, but he also knows that the building of a road comes at a high environmental cost.

He wants builders and other industrialists to be conscious of their impact on the environment. Since it is easy to be driven by the zeal of potential monetary gain, the President recognizes that regulatory agencies need to be in place to curb their activities and hold them responsible. It’s a form of checks and balances for the economy and environment.

President Obama has led the charge to pass meaningful environmental reforms and has reversed hazardous Bush Era policies. In doing so, his administration has substantially affected the environment for the better, in the long-term, despite having to overcome many political roadblocks.

The office of the president is the most powerful in the world. Without the support of the President, environmental causes fail. The president appoints like-minded administrators to the very agencies intended to regulate certain activities. If the administration is not in favor of regulation, then it can be implied that the administrator will serve has a placeholder that has no intention of executing the power the agency has been given.

It is my opinion that the Bush-Cheney administration had managed to turn the EPA into a figurative yes-man. Since the administration was hostile to reform and favored the interests of private industry over the environment; it should come as no surprise that the administrator who was appointed to the EPA shared those same beliefs.

When the Republicans were in control, environmentalists were patronized and their agencies neutralized. The very mechanisms put in place to prevent environmental endangerment were in effect dismantled.

Trying to revitalize and strengthen the EPA has proven a challenge. Each administration figuratively runs the football in the opposite direction down the field. Before President Obama could move forward with reforms he wanted to pass, he first had to begin the long tedious process of reversing everything the Bush-Cheney administration had done over the past 8 years. Meanwhile, opposition in the House of Representatives, Senate, and in the Supreme Court also arises to slow the steady progress President Obama and his team have made.

The full effect of the Obama-Biden administration’s impact on the environment will not be felt into several years down the road. Drafting legislation does not only take time to be written and passed but also takes time to go into effect. Lawsuits slow the process further.

The bottom line is that our nation needs to join the rest of the world in recognizing that our nation must be powered by cleaner energy that will reduce harmful GHG pollution, which will protect our children and grandchildren’s future. The road to this cleaner and more responsible future is achieved in fits and starts and will not happen overnight. However, it is good that a group of enlightened individuals started the long journey early – we may not have much time to turn our global warming situation around.

Annotated Bibliography

Adler, Jonathan H. “Heat Expands All Things: The Proliferation Of Greenhouse Gas Regulation
Under The Obama Administration.” Harvard Journal Of Law & Public Policy 34.2
(2011): 421-452. Academic Search Complete. Web. 30 Oct. 2012.

Jonathan Adler takes a disapproving tone against environmental reform. He says that the Environmental Protection Agency is imposing environmental regulations that will have a negative impact on the economy and minimal positive impact on the environment.

“Barack Obama.” Barack Obama – Forbes. Forbes, n.d. Web. 8 December 2012.

Proves that President Obama is regarded as the most powerful man in the world.

“California Department of Motor Vehicles.” California Department of Motor Vehicles. Ca, n.d.
Web. 9 December 2012.

Statistics for the number of motor vehicles in California.

Clayton, Mark. “Does your car get 54.5 miles a gallon? That’s what EPA wants for 2025.”
Christian Science Monitor 16 Nov. 2011: N.PAG. Academic Search Complete. Web. 24
Nov. 2012.

Mark Clayton, staff writer for Christian Science Monitor, optimistically reports on the historic plan set forth by the Obama administration to improve the overall fuel economy of vehicles sold in the United States by 2016. Quoting several sources, Clayton captures the enthusiasm of environmentalists who are hailing the plan as the greatest achievement of the Obama administration.

Clayton, Mark. “EPA issues new rule on greenhouse gas emissions: Where does that leave coal?.” Christian Science Monitor 27 Mar. 2012: N.PAG. Academic Search Complete. Web. 24
Nov. 2012.

Mark Clayton, staff writer for Christian Science Monitor, optimistically reports on a new rule proposed by the Obama administration to limit carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants. The overall mood of the article seems to dismiss Republican objections as extremist by quoting their baseless accusations and following them up with more, lengthier quotes by environmentalists.

Clayton, Mark. “In win for Obama, EPA regulations on emissions upheld by appeals court.”
Christian Science Monitor 26 June 2012: N.PAG. Academic Search Complete. Web. 24
Nov. 2012.

Mark Clayton, staff writer for Christian Science Monitor, takes a more neutral tone in this report than in previous ones. Quoting an even number of Republicans and environmentalists. Overall left with the impression that Obama’s victory in the appeals court is seen differently by the two sides of the argument. 

Davidson, Paul. “The push is on for greener cars.” USA Today n.d.: Academic Search Complete.
Web. 24 Nov. 2012.

An article reporting on the Obama administration’s moves to move forward with several environmental reforms.

Garvey, Charlotte S. “Obama Administration Halts Bush-Era Species Bill.” Rock Products 112.4
(2009): 4. Academic Search Complete. Web. 24 Nov. 2012.

Charlotte Garvey’s is a collage of different pieces concerning the environment and the Obama administration’s intent to regulate emissions and funding. The piece is a bit jumbled and confusing. 

Harder, Amy. “Cutting The Power To EPA.” National Journal (2010): 13. Academic Search
Complete. Web. 30 Oct. 2012.

Amy Harder, reports on the Obama administration’s failed attempt to pass cap and trade. Harder warns of strong Republican opposition to come as the upcoming lame duck congress is just around the corner.

Hobson, Margaret Kriz. “The Greenest White House In History.” National Journal (2009): 6.
Academic Search Complete. Web. 24 Nov. 2012.

Margaret Hobson explains how the Obama White House is the greenest, by any measure, in history. 

Inhofe, James. “Obama Still Backs Job-Destroying Energy/Global-Warming Agenda. (Cover
Story).” Human Events 66.4 (2010): 1-11. Academic Search Complete. Web. 24 Nov.

James Inhofe takes a hostile tone against the Obama administration’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Inhofe, James. “Obama Trumpets Radical Energy Agenda. (Cover Story).” Human Events 66.23
(2010): 1-9. Academic Search Complete. Web. 24 Nov. 2012.

James Inhofe takes a hostile tone against the Obama administration’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Killough, Ashley. “Obama: I bear ‘full responsibility for everything’.” Obama: I bear ‘full
responsibility for everything’ – CNN Political Ticker, n.d. Web. 9 December 2012.

Proves the claim that the President bears responsibility for everything.

Moresco, Justin. “California Asks Obama For Waiver On Clean Air Act.” Red Herring (2009): 1.
Academic Search Complete. Web. 31 Oct. 2012.

A short piece by Justin Moresco that reports on California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s letter to President Obama on his first day in office asking for him to allow California to pass stricter environmental reforms.  

Moss, Doug. “President Obama.” E: The Environmental Magazine 20.2 (2009): 6. Academic
Search Complete. Web. 31 Oct. 2012.

Contributing writer for the Environmental Magazine, Doug Moss, weighs the challenges facing a very optimistic president. 

“Obama Administration Finalizes Historic 54.5 MPG Fuel Efficiency Standards.” Obama
Administration Finalizes Historic 54.5 MPG Fuel Efficiency Standards | The White House. The White House, n.d. Web. 5 December 2012.

A press release from the White House summarizing the groundbreaking plan.

“Obama Flexes His “Green” Muscles.” New American (08856540) 25.4 (2009): 8. Academic
Search Complete. Web. 30 Oct. 2012.

An article that attacks President Obama’s plan to increase fuel economy as an under an evil scheme to sink the already weak auto-industry. 

Sector, Business. “Administrator Lisa P. Jackson.” About the EPA Administrator | About EPA |
US EPA. About the EPA Administrator, n.d. Web. 9 December 2012.

A general background of Lisa Jackson, the twelfth administrator of the EPA.

Sector, Business. “News Releases from Headquarters.” 06/30/2009: EPA Grants California GHG
Waiver. EPA, n.d. Web. 5 December 2012.

An official press release from the Environmental Protection Agency announcing the granting of California’s requested Greenhouse gas waiver. 

Westmoreland, Joshua K. “Global Warming And Originalism: The Role Of The Epa In The
Obama Administration.” Boston College Environmental Affairs Law Review 37.1 (2010):
225-256. Academic Search Complete. Web. 30 Oct. 2012.

Discusses the limits on the power of the president in the light of the Constitution’s traditional definitions.

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