Green Groups Struggle With Obama's Mixed Environmental Record
WASHINGTON -- When Barack Obama was elected president, environmentalists believed a new age of environmental protection and conservation had come. But almost three years into his presidency, the Environmental Protection Agency is under assault by Republican officials and support for environmental causes is overshadowed by a lagging economy.
The president on Friday angered environmentalists with his decision to overrule the EPA and delay the tightening of smog regulations until 2013, bending instead to pressure from Republican lawmakers and business interests.
But the reviews of Obama's general environmental record have been more mixed. The Huffington Post asked four prominent environmental groups -- Greenpeace, League of Conservation Voters, Environment America and Sierra Club -- what they thought of the president’s track record.
A spokesman for Greenpeace called Obama’s performance "mediocre at best," citing a lack of leadership on passing an energy and climate bill. “Instead we saw compromise early and often, and we really didn't see the president stepping up in the House and making sure there was a strong bill," the spokesman told HuffPost on Thursday.
After Obama's announcement on Friday, Phil Radford, executive director of Greenpeace, said in a press release that "President Obama announced he is siding with dirty energy corporations when it comes to air pollution, instead of supporting Americans who are struggling to find work and trying to keep their families healthy."
The League of Conservation voters likewise criticized Obama for his decision. "The Obama administration is caving to big polluters at the expense of protecting the air we breathe," said Kate Geller, press secretary of the League of Conservation Voters, in a press release Friday. "This is a huge win for corporate polluters and huge loss for public health."
However, the League proved to be more supportive of the president's general environmental track record.
"I think there's no doubt it's been a mixed bag in some respects," Navin Nayak, senior vice president for campaigns at the League, told HuffPost before Obama's most recent announcement. "He's done more than any president in living memory on energy issues, increased fuel efficiency standards twice, and made significant investments in clean energy."
Nayak cautioned that green groups haven’t finished their performance assessments.
"Is he still going to be a president who stands with us?" asked Nayak. "I think for a lot of big decisions, he as president and his administration over the next six months are going to be very informative."
Environment America, a federation of state-based environmental advocacy groups, was more satisfied with the administration's environmental progress, praising its new fuel economy standards.
"I think that mostly, we're very excited about progress on a whole set of issues," Environment America D.C. director Anna Aurilio told HuffPost on Thursday. "The car standards that he's already done and the car standards he's proposing are the biggest steps we can take to get the country off oil and cut down on global warming."
"He's been pushing back at the polluters’ allies in Congress," Aurilio added. "If you look at the interior appropriations bill that the House put out and The White House response, we think this is head and shoulders from past administrations."
The Sierra Club also lauded the administration’s new limits on emissions for cars and trucks, but gave Obama's broader environmental record mixed reviews.
"The new fuel efficiency standards, the standards for large trucks has been huge, something that's never been done before," spokesman Tony Cani told HuffPost before Obama's announcement on Friday. "He's really outspoken about a new energy economy, new jobs, and creating a better environment."
Still, Cani said there are a range of important decisions coming up that provide an opportunity for Obama to step up and show leadership on green issues, such as with the Keystone XL, a proposed 17,000-mile oil pipeline that would bring crude oil from tar sands in Canada to oil refineries along the Gulf Coast. Environmental groups have called the president's decision on the pipeline “the biggest test” of his presidency. “We're looking to him to serve that role and be that leader," Cani said.
The president has indicated that he is cognizant of the need to shore up support among environmentalists going into 2012, saying he will push energy and environmental causes, such as new regulations for coal ash, should he win a second term.