Obama & Sustainability: A New Post-Election Hope?
In his inauguration speech, President Obama dedicated some time to addressing the environmental contingent that was left out of the gamut of the election. In all of the months of campaigning and formal presidential debates, the topic of sustainability was a no-show, with both candidates staying away from a subject that could probably do little to help either of them when it came to the polls. While it was nice to see that the environment is still on the President's radar screen, the pressures on the country's budget and other issues currently claiming the main stage could still breed a healthy amount of skepticism for how much environmental legislation we will see in the President's second term.
During the President's speech, his nod to environment included:
"We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries – we must claim its promise. That is how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure – our forests and waterways; our croplands and snow-capped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That's what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared."
Well said–kudos to the President's speech writer. I certainly agree with all of the content, but when I look at the rest of the docket that seems to be swamping Capitol Hill right now I can't help but wonder how much face time the environmental lobby is going to get over the next four years.
A Full Plate
When trying to map out the political parley over the President's final term, it's important to remember that the number of things we need to address as a country seem to be countless, the President's time, and more importantly his political weight, are finite. President Obama has used a great deal of post-election leverage to push through his goals for the fiscal cliff and the debt ceiling, but in looking ahead there is still a great deal of negotiating that will need to be done on things like the budget, gun control and immigration (all highly contested subjects that the White House as marked as priorities). Some political pundits say that a 2nd term President has somewhere between 10 and 24 months to present the goals for his term and put the weight of the White House behind them. After that, the focus is on getting them accomplished before eyes start turning towards the next election (perhaps one of the downfalls of our current political landscape). So will the environment have any talking time left over?
One of the other key factors of the next four years will be the President and the Environmental Protection Agency. A large amount of the environmental "wins" for the President's first term did not come out of Congress, but emerged from the EPA. Stricter regulations on the emissions from new power generation facilities was one of the highlights that has helped promote a migration away from coal power. Unfortunately, Obama's environmental lieutenant, Lisa Jackson, is resigning from the post after a very successful tenure in the office. Leaving a hole in the administration's environmental arm that needs to be filled.
This open seat could represent an indicator for the administration's environmental stance for the next four years. If the new head of the EPA is as bold a proponent for robust environmental standard as Jackson proved to be, then it may be indicative of the President retaining a hawkish presence on environmental goals. On the other hand, the EPA brewed a considerable amount of opposition from numerous industries due to its regulation tightening. A docile replacement for Jackson could be the Obama administration's way of easing the EPA out of the cross hairs in order to focus on other issues.
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