Monday, February 27, 2012

Obama's Environmental Conservation Ethic Giving Way to Severe Conservatism?

A few weeks ago, Mitt Romney was mocked by many for labeling himself “severely conservative” (see here, here, and particularly here for examples).  While lately we have seen much focus in the media over the efforts those vying for the Republican nomination as they run to the right, another story about political positioning is not getting nearly as much attention as it deserves:  President Obama’s race to secure the political middle.

One way that story might be told is a month or so ago, Obama stood with environmentalists—at least begrudgingly so—in opposing efforts to fast-track the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would run from Canada to Texas.  Of course, TransCanada Corp. did not give up so easily.  As it pivoted from that political loss, the company settled on a strategy of building the southern portion of the pipeline in short order (which is less controversial and would run through Oklahoma and Texas).  Apparently this segment of the pipeline would provide relief to an oil-production bottleneck in Cushing, Oklahoma.  And, here is why this is newsworthy; today the Obama White House publicly stated that it would support that segment of the pipeline.  His endorsement of this pipeline segment is an indication that, as in many other contexts, the President will ultimately abandon environmental protection.

In an election year, one would expect that a Democratic president would run to the political middle.  Over the past few years, we have seen that when the Obama Administration needs to find middle ground, the pathway to that middle ground is often through bartering away or abandoning environmental protections.  Examples of this are many.  Perhaps the most striking though are the Administration's willingness to cut the EPA's budget to end conflicts with Congress about funding the federal government and the Administration's decision to walk away from stricter ozone regulations this past fall.  As President Obama positions himself for his reelection bid, I fear that his rhetoric about environmental conservation will give way to severe conservatism.

-- Brigham Daniels

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