Because of our do-nothing Republican Congress, popular wisdom assumes that the GOP has tied President Obama’s hands on the environment. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.
President Obama “goes big” and uses his executive authority to dramatically expand the size of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument off the coast of Hawaii, creating the largest protected place on the planet. This is just the latest and largest of President Obama’s extensive executive actions to protect the environment and combat climate change.
The GOP Congress has stalled, denied, and obstructed all Democratic efforts to address the disastrous consequences of climate change. And in Cleveland this summer, the GOP doubled down on attempts to reverse decades of bipartisan environmental protection.
Climate denial among Republicans has been astounding. Representative Joe Heck (R-NV), who is running to replace retiring Minority Leader Harry Reid, is a notorious climate change denier. Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) has had choice words for Americans who acknowledge the reality of climate change: “There’s an arrogance of power there that they’re utopians, that they really think they can create heaven on Earth, and where it’s failed in the past, those people like Stalin and Chavez and the Castros, the nut cases in North Korea.” (He has also claimed that it is “proven scientifically” that climate change isn’t real, because the temperature doesn’t seem any warmer to him.)
Senator Marco Rubio of Florida laughed off questions on the human-made impact of rising sea levels on his Miami constituents. He joked: “Well, sure, the climate is changing, and one of the reasons why the climate is changing is the climate has always been changing…as far as a law that we can pass in Washington to change the weather, there’s no such thing.”
This Republican denialism flies in the face of the 76 percent of Americans who agree with President Obama and Democrats. Clearly, the GOP leadership prefers to ignore the will of the American people, including 59 percent of Republican voters.
This Republican obstructionism has made it a herculean task for President Obama to make progress on climate change and environmental issues. So he has used his executive powers to the maximum possible extent. And he has been enormously effective.
Here are some examples:
- Efficiency improvements at the Hoover Dam;
- Cutting greenhouse gas emissions and expanding use of renewable energy at federal agencies;
- Obtaining commitments from companies, agricultural producers, and other private-sector players to reduce carbon pollution and use clean energy through incentives, environmentally-sensitive requirements on beneficiaries of federal funds, as well as voluntary partnerships;
- Rules to move federally-funded construction away from flood zones;
- Significant expansion and designation of new national monuments like Papahānaumokuākea, which efforts have not only protected large swaths of our land, seas and eco-systems, but also prevent climate change because vegetation mitigates against rising carbon levels;
- The Better Business Challenge and other initiatives, through which President Obama has spurred states, localities, businesses, utilities, factories, schools, universities, landlords, and homeowners to significantly improve energy efficiency;
- Incentivizing private sector investments in green technologies;
- Encouraging the expansion of energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements in low-income and affordable housing.
And this list is hardly exhaustive.
President Obama is the embodiment of the old adage, “where there’s a will, there’s a way.” He has deployed innovative and effective management and used his executive powers judiciously to help protect our planet.