President Obama's inability -- or unwillingness -- to take control of the Gulf Coast oil disaster seems to be part of a larger pattern. Many environmentalists say they feel betrayed by a president they thought would end, or sharply limit, many environmental horrors of the past.
Obama has promised a comprehensive climate and clean energy policy that invests in energy efficiency and renewable power. But the president himself had acknowledged that getting 60 votes to pass an energy bill through the Senate will require significant concessions on nuclear power, "clean coal," and offshore oil drilling.
Critics feel its business as usual in Washington.
The president has already compromised on extending the Production Tax Credit to encourage renewable energy; requiring drilling on the current 68 million acres of land and over 40 million offshore oil and gas leases which companies have not touched; and, launch a Clean Technologies Venture Capital Fund that would provide $10 billion a year for five years to get the most promising clean energy technologies off the ground. Obama's pledge to enact a windfall profits tax on oil companies also quietly disappeared after gasoline prices dropped.
The president's negotiated deals on "clean coal" and off shore oil drilling are now clouded by the worst coal mine disaster since 1970 and the worse oil spill in U.S. history.
His timing has been unfortunate:
• On March 31, President Obama announced an expansion of offshore oil development "in ways that protect communities and coastlines" just three weeks before the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded on April 20. Eleven workers were killed. Then on May 14, Obama announced a moratorium on drilling new wells and the granting of environmental waivers. But reports now indicate that since the explosion, federal regulators have granted at least 19 environmental waivers and at least 17 drilling permits for offshore Gulf projects, many like the Deepwater Horizon.
• With the election of President Obama, environmentalists had expected to see the end of the "Appalachian apocalypse," their name for exposing coal deposits by blowing the tops off whole mountains. But in May of last year, the administration quietly made a decision to open the way for at least two dozen more mountaintop removals in the name of "clean coal." Nearly a year later on April 5, 29 coal miners were killed in the devastating explosion inside Massey Energy Co.'s Upper Big Branch mine -- the worst since 1970.
What's scary is -- if disasters come in threes -- President Obama is giving the nuclear industry a new life through loan guarantees.
In his State of the Union speech, President Obama called for "a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants." After issuing $8 billion in nuclear energy loan guarantees in February, the administration is poised to announce another $9 billion for the nuclear energy industry. The Energy Department also just announced a $2 billion loan guarantee to French-owned Areva Inc. for construction of a uranium enrichment plant in Idaho after a ban on such private facilities since the 1970's.
Meanwhile, as hurricane season approaches in August, the oil keeps spewing into the Gulf and the lawsuits are racking-up.
It would be cynical to believe that the White House intends to use the on-going Gulf Coast disaster or the current hearings on the coal mine accident to push broader policy priorities, like legislation that would put a price on climate-altering emissions, and increased federal aid for clean energy technology. After all, the White House is afraid the new energy bill, which the president has tepidly endorsed, could be exploited by Republicans in the midterm elections as a "carbon tax."
It would be even more cynical to believe that -- like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- the longer the spill lingers, the more the American public will become numbed to its impact.