President Obama: Steward of the Environment or Steward of the Oil and Gas Industry?
We live in an era of heightened environmental consciousness and concern, and our world leaders are just starting to catch on. President Obama said it loud and clear during his 2014 State of the Union Address: “Climate change is a fact…When our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.” But are words enough?
On this President’s day, we should recognize those who have done well for our country and those who have done well for our planet. But we should also consider how our current president’s environmental legacy would be written. It is certain that President Obama’s legacy will be defined not only by what he did for the people, but by what he did for the environment – the air, water and land that we all depend upon. Yet, a president’s legacy is characterized by momentous feats and also failures. The question is: which side of the spectrum will he be on?
Will President Obama be remembered as an environmental steward or supporter of fossil fuels? Will he stick true to his word and take “bold action now” to combat climate change and drive us toward a sustainable future? Or, will his administration’s commitment to oil and natural gas, relationship with the industry representatives and reluctance to meet with the very people who have been affected by oil and gas development leave a legacy defined by contaminated water, polluted air, unsafe communities and a climate catastrophe? While he would like us to believe in a climate change feat, his dedication to oil and gas development makes us fear impending failure.
Some of our greatest presidential leaders not only spoke of environmental stewardship, they implemented policies and instilled in our society values that our present and future leaders should strive to improve upon.
Theodore Roosevelt (1901–1909), considered the father of conservation, spearheaded the conservationist movement and popularized ideas of good resource management and respect for nature. Roosevelt created the U.S. Forest Service and established five national parks.
Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1935) responded to the Dust Bowl, a major environmental catastrophe of the era, by creating programs to prevent further environmental degradation such as soil erosion. As part of the New Deal he established the Civil Conservation Corps (CCC) where Americans planted millions of trees, improved parks and trails and built wind breaks on farms to protect the long-term productivity of soil.
Richard Nixon (1969-1974), despite certain criticisms, bowed to public pressure and established the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, signing into law landmark environmental safeguards such as the Clean Air Act, the Ocean Dumping Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act and more.
Despite the works of these leaders, President Obama has certainly been handed a mess to clean up. The Bush Administration (champion of the oil and gas industry) amended the Energy Policy Act in 2005 to grant hydraulic fracturing exceptions from the rules of the Safe Drinking Water Act, a move that stimulated America’s recent fracking boom. But, by no means has President Obama taken the action needed to halt this kind of irresponsible fossil fuel development. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 35,000 wells are fracked each year. Water is being contaminated, pipelines and processing facilities are exploding, and potent methane is leaking into the atmosphere.
Fracking for oil and natural gas is not the road to a clean, sustainable future – it paves the way for greater reliance on a form of energy that is dangerous, not renewable, exacerbates climate change and will not make the United States energy independent. If President Obama wishes to be remembered as a clean energy champion, he should not be leasing pristine federal land, heritage sites and reclamation areas to oil and gas companies. He should not watch the oil and gas industry use or contaminate precious water supplies (especially in regions with severe drought). If President Obama wants to be remembered as a leader who truly combatted climate change, he will take real action to ban fracking now and instead invest in renewables.
You can help make a change. Take action by urging the Obama administration to meet with the victims of fracking-related water contamination and re-open the water contamination investigations that the Environmental Protection Agency abandoned.