President Obama must not allow "flat earth" Republicans to bully him into minimal action or no action at all on federally mandated environmental protection during the next two years. He can take heart from not only ethics being on his side here. So are the vast majority of Americans.
It is true enough that adherence to principle does not exclude some degree of compromise. Hence, the president should make every effort to gain Republican backing for his environmental initiatives. But at the end of the day, regardless of the intensity of the opposition, Obama needs to follow his conscience and let the chips fall where they may.
What then are the major environmental tests that await him? He should refuse to back away from his Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulating industrial greenhouse gas emissions as long as Congress defaults on the responsibility. And he must not allow his resolve to be weakened by congressional critics' lame assertions that he has overstepped presidential authority. Somebody has to look after the American people's interests.
The president must stand fast in extending legal protection to every species that deserves endangered status, despite critics' unfounded claims that too vigorous an effort threatens the economy and can usurp private property rights. Nor should his EPA be totally dependent on cost-benefit analysis (as most Republicans would prefer) in promulgating environmental rules. There are other determinant factors besides economics in crafting regulation, namely social, moral, health, environmental, and aesthetic concerns.
The president should support increased federal subsidies for and mandated use of renewable energy in the nation's fuel mix. He can fend off opponents of government intervention and build public support by pointing to China and the lead that it has already established in the production of solar energy.
Another true test of Obama's environmental mettle will be his ability to withstand political pressure to subordinate public safety to a prospective increase in offshore oil production.
Not all of Obama's tests require him to defy the opposition. There are some challenges that present opportunities for détente if the president is skillful enough to exploit them. For example, Obama in theory should be able to win support of deficit-conscious Tea Party congressional Republicans in reducing military spending and federal subsidies to the fossil fuel industry.
Who is going to dispute the elimination of burdensome, unnecessary regulations? Obama and Congress should have room to reach consensus on such rules, provided they can agree on which ones meet the definition.
While there has been some GOP resistance to greater emphasis on renewable energy, Obama should be able to pressure at least some Republicans to reverse field by forcefully stressing the job creation and national security benefits of such energy sources.
And what of the Republican mantra that we must live within our means to extricate ourselves from debt? Shouldn't that square with imposition of an increased tax on gasoline so that we are paying the true cost of what is otherwise heavily government subsidized automobile fuel?
The environmental tests ahead will not be easy for President Obama, but he can pass with flying colors if despite Republican obstructionism, he chooses to do the (no pun intended) "right" thing.
Edward Flattaus fourth book Green Morality is now available.