If Congressional Republicans persist with their crusade against environmental protection, President Obama should meet then head-on in his second term. He ought to take his cue from the 1980s. It was then that a democratic-controlled Congress and the national environmental movement rallied public opinion to pressure President Ronald Reagan to retreat from his ideologically-driven rollback of anti-pollution regulation.
Reagan had viewed most environmental regulation as a governmental encroachment on individual freedom. He consequently appointed right-wing zealots to lead the federal environmentally-oriented governmental departments and instructed them to diminish the very units they were heading.
The public uproar that ensued, fanned by a press eager to sensationalize the controversy, forced Reagan to "reluctantly" accept the resignations of his original appointees and replace them with individuals committed to administering environmental protection rather than contracting it.
Hence, while Obama should not eschew negotiating with testy congressional Republicans, he is more likely to achieve his environmental objectives by taking his case directly to the court of public opinion. If he wins, there will be enormous pressure on any recalcitrant Republicans to buckle out of sheer political pragmatism. In the aftermath of the election, a majority of Americans have no political ax to grind, they just want solutions.
To clinch overwhelming public support for his environmental agenda, Obama should frame his proposals in common sense, economic terms. He should tackle climate change by pointing out that reforestation, greater fuel efficiency, and expansion of clean, renewable energy are cost-effective and environmentally beneficial remedies in their own right. They are thus good policy even if the global warming threat turns out to be exaggerated and some of his agenda's strategic rewards only kick in over the long term.
A carbon tax that would steer people away from dirty fossil fuel use towards clean energy could be sold by assuring the general public that any extra costs would be offset by a reduction in payroll taxes.
Perhaps the most potent economic argument of all is for Obama to contrast the far greater cost to the nation if we were to ignore global warming as opposed to implementing adaption and mitigation measures against the phenomenon.
Obama should stress to the public that strengthening anti-pollution regulations will have a positive effect on employment by contributing to workers' health and prolonging the life of manufacturing facilities by requiring them to modernize.
In the face of opposition from developers and their congressional Republican allies, Obama can defend wetland preservation by stressing the economic values such ecosystems provide through flood control, water purification, water storage and fish spawning habitat.
Obama can tout protection of endangered species by pointing to the miracle medicines that have been derived from rare plants and animals. Republican criticism that wilderness designation is hurting the economy by blocking fossil fuel extraction can be countered by noting that 95 percent of the nation's land mass is open to some degree of energy exploration. Meanwhile, such recreational activities as hunting, fishing, hiking, and camping that are allowed in wilderness areas bring in $646 million in annual spending.
So reach out to the public with reasoned, economic-laced environmental proposals, Mr. President, and let the chips fall where they may. Chances are it won't be in the direction of the Congressional Republicans if they turn a deaf ear.