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Jun-09-2010 22:43printcomments

Obama: The Environmental President

Obama should take the lead in developing a comprehensive energy policy, not one developed behind closed doors with just bid energy in attendance, but open to the public.

A 1999 BP Advertisement
A 1999 BP Advertisement

(SAN FRANCISCO) - It's time for President Obama to stand up to Big Energy and get to work on climate change. He has to to get angry, to act, not just react. Already his critics are attempting to paint the BP oil spill as his Hurricane Katrina. Obama should take the initiative and use the oil spill as an opportunity to be the environmental president. I do applaud him for suspending consideration of applications for exploratory drilling for oil in the Arctic until 2011 and extending a moratorium on permits to drill new deepwater wells for six months.

Next, he has to end the cozy relationship between the oil companies and regulators. I good start is his public vow to improve environmental oversight by reviewing how the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service (MMS) implements the National Environmental Policy Act and endangered species laws. I approve of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's plan to divide MMS, which both regulates offshore drilling and collects billions of dollars in royalties, by creating a new offshore environmental and safety agency that will include what had been MMS’s inspection, investigation, and enforcement enforcement operations.

In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court in Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Environmental ProtectionAgency, ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was violating the Clean Air Act, by not regulating greenhouse gasses. The EPA did not finalize its endangerment finding -- necessary before it begins regulating the gases -- until last December. In a response to this Supreme Court decision, the Senate is poised to vote on Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski's resolution to strip the EPA of its authority to regulate carbon pollution and to hold polluters accountable under the Clean Air Act. The resolution would ignore and override scientific findings and allow big oil companies, big refineries, and others to continue to pollute without any oversight or consequence. Clearly, Obama should publicly oppose this resolution and the Senate should reject Murkowski's resolution.

In addition, President Obama should send the Kerry-Lieberman proposed American Power Act (Act) back to the drawing board. Why? By meeting behind closed doors, the lawmakers let corporate polluters play too large a role in the Act to the detriment of the climate and consumers. The proposed legislation promotes nuclear energy, oil drilling, and coal mining with a weak carbon-pricing mechanism. In addition, it guts the EPA's current authority to regulate greenhouse gases as pollutants under the Clean Air Act. The proposed legislation fails to give incentives to renewable energy development and energy efficiency investments. For example, Section 1102 of the Act increases loan guarantees primarily for nuclear power to $54 billion, which is a bad deal for taxpayers, especially considering the high risk of default that even the government acknowledges. Section 1103 provides $6 billion in taxpayer-subsidized risk insurance for twelve nuclear reactors. The Act would expand offshore drilling even in light of the BP oil spill. Section 1412 establishes a carbon tax paid by ratepayers and collected by utilities to fund carbon capture and storage with no money allocated to rooftop solar or energy efficiency investments. The coal industry will eat up most of the subsidies that should go to renewable energy development. In sum, the nuclear and coal industries will receive a lot of taxpayer money and loan guarantees under the Act. Instead, renewable energy should be getting the guarantees.

Also, President Obama should publicly endorse S.1399, sponsored by Senator Dianne Feinstein, which creates an Office of Carbon Market Oversight at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), giving the agency authority to regulate spot and futures emission markets. It requires all entities seeking to trade emissions derivatives to register and be approved by the CFTC, and all transmissions must be cleared through a CFTC regulated Carbon Clearing Organization. S. 1399 ensures that Wall Street plays no role in gambling on climate policy. However, by creating carbon trading markets open to non-energy companies, there is the danger that Wall Street would be positioned to control our climate future. Strong regulations are needed to make sure this does not happen.

The Obama administration should also ensure that those responsible for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill pay the full amount of damage, which includes cleaning up the spill, the economic harm to the coastlines of several states, compensation for lost fisheries, and lost tourism dollars if beaches are fouled. And, of course, there will be the incalculable long-term damage to the environment.

Finally, Obama should take the lead in developing a comprehensive energy policy, not one developed behind closed doors with just big energy in attendance, but open to the public. The energy policy should emphasize investment in alternative energy. And the U.S. must become a full party to the Kyoto Protocol, an international environmental treaty with the goal of achieving "stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system."

By seizing the opportunity, Obama can answer his critics of his response to the BP oil spill. He may even be able to turn lemons into lemonade before the mid-term elections. writer Ralph E. Stone was born in Massachusetts. He is a graduate of both Middlebury College and Suffolk Law School. We are very fortunate to have this writer's talents in this troubling world; Ralph has an eye for detail that others miss. As is the case with many writers, Ralph is an American Veteran who served in war. Ralph served his nation after college as a U.S. Army officer during the Vietnam war. After Vietnam, he went on to have a career with the Federal Trade Commission as an Attorney specializing in Consumer and Antitrust Law. Over the years, Ralph has traveled extensively with his wife Judi, taking in data from all over the world, which today adds to his collective knowledge about extremely important subjects like the economy and taxation. You can send Ralph an email at this address

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sockpuppet July 29, 2010 3:21 pm (Pacific time)

Haven't read your article, but I wanted to let you know that the image and caption are incorrect. That was not the BP logo in 1999. Nor was this from an ad campaign. It was from a satire t-shirt:

Osotan; June 10, 2010 6:26 pm (Pacific time)

obama is a liar paid and controlled by the same industry. To expect him to stand for anything is an over estimate of his character. He has no more credibility.

Daniel Johnson June 10, 2010 5:22 am (Pacific time)

You write that BP should "pay the full amount of damage, which includes cleaning up the spill, the economic damage to the coastlines of several states, and lost tourism dollars if beaches are fouled"

You add: "the incalculable long-term damage to the environment"

This means everything that BP owns. In other words, all BP's assets should be forfeit to the public purse. It's no less than what would be expected of a criminal person (who could lose their life). Time for BP and other criminal corporations to walk the plank. 

Colli June 10, 2010 4:28 am (Pacific time)

Ralph: I believe that you are correct in everything you say with the exception of your implication that mans use of fossil fuels is the primary cause of climatic change. Too many scientific studies performed both before and after Al Gore’s moneymaking scheme prove otherwise. Man is most certainly damaging the environment . . . possibly irrevocably. The greed and narcisstic tendency of man has certainly done far more harm than good over the millennia. However, climatic change is cyclical. It always has been and it always will be . . . with or without man's greed. Core samples from the arctic ice allow the tracing, analysis, and understanding of the cyclic nature of climate dating back a thousand plus years. Those core samples are far more definitive than theory . . . they are documented fact which can be clearly interpreted. I applaud your efforts to get us thinking and to focus our attention because that is surely needed. This is an excellent article Ralph. Thank you for keeping your finger on the pulse of man's greed and for investigating what (if anything) can be done to eliminate or mitigate the damage we cause.

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