President Barack Obama announced this week that his administration would open areas from Delaware to Florida and in Alaska to offshore drilling for gas and oil. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation also released new guidelines for auto emissions to cut carbon emissions, and the EPA said new benchmarks for issuing mountaintop mining permits would prevent damage to waterways in Appalachia. The environmental community welcomed these last two announcements, but both were overshadowed by the off-shore drilling decision, which green groups largely condemned.
Off-putting off-shore drilling decision
Although as a candidate President Obama began by opposing off-shore drilling, by the end of the campaign he said he would support an expansion of drilling areas. Mother Jones‘s Kate Sheppard explains the series of decisions that made this week’s announcement possible:
In October 2008, amidst calls of "drill, baby, drill" from conservatives, Congress failed to renew the long-standing moratorium on offshore drilling. Months earlier, George W. Bush had lifted an 18-year-old executive ban on offshore drilling, which had originally been imposed by his father in 1990. Obama, of course, could have issued his own order, but didn’t."
The administration had been considering the decision to go ahead with drilling for about a year but kept deliberations quiet. Key senators, however, knew the decision was coming, and it’s pushing Democrats like Senators Mary Landrieu of Lousiana and Mark Warner of Virginia to warm towards energy legislation, TPMDC reports.
Cars’ carbon emission
The EPA’s announcement on auto emissions, on the other hand, comes as no surprise. It marks the first big step the Obama administration has taken to limit carbon emissions through regulation. Auto regulations are a relatively easy sell. A chunk of Congress wants to keep the EPA from taking these sorts of actions, but in this case, the auto industry supports the federal regulations. At the Washington Independent, Aaron Wiener notes that "the guidelines drew immediate praise from the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which has long advocated national emissions and efficiency regulations rather than patchwork state-by-state rules."
Mountaintop removal mining
The coal industry will be less happy about the EPA’s announcement on mountaintop removal mining. The agency admitted that the practice causes significant damage to streams and said its new guidelines would lead to significantly less harm.
The new policies, Jeff Biggers writes at AlterNet, will "effectively bring an end to the process of valley fills (and the dumping of toxic coal mining waste into the valleys and waterways)." It could be, he says, "the beginning of the end of mountaintop removal."
One sign that mountaintop removal’s doomsday is nigh? Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, one of coal’s staunchest and most powerful advocates on the Hill, praised the EPA’s decision, reports Mike Lillis at the Washington Independent.
Green groups groan
Green groups are lauding the EPA’s two announcements. (The Sierra Club called the mining announcement "the most significant administrative action ever taken to address mountaintop removal coal mining," for instance.) But the push for off-shore drilling has environmental advocates squirming.
"As the president extends olive branches to his critics, he’s alienating allies in the environmental community, who say his policies are reminding them more and more of those of his predecessor, George W. Bush," says Mother Jones‘s Sheppard. "Some enviros are even likening Obama to Alaska’s oil-loving ex-governor, Sarah Palin."
On Democracy Now!, Brendan Cummings of the Center for Biological Diversity called the decision "horribly disappointing" and said, "Obama is essentially embracing wholeheartedly the policy of: we can drill our way to energy independence."
The Obama administration’s energy and environmental policy is creeping ever further towards the center. Ken Salazar, secretary for the interior, said this week that "Cap-and-trade is not in the lexicon anymore," TPMDC reports. It’s no wonder that progressive members of Congress are starting to feel uncomfortable with the direction their climate bill is taking, as Sheppard reports. The president may be using up his reserves of political support from his allies as he stretches to meet conservatives and centrist Democrats on some shaky middle ground.