Interesting article from the LA Times’ Tom Hamburger and Petter Wallsten today: Obama walks a fine line over mining.
Although environmentalists had expected the new administration to put the brakes on mountaintop removal, Rahall and other mining advocates have pointed out that Obama did not promise to end the practice and was more open to it than his Republican opponent, Arizona Sen. John McCain.
A review of Obama’s campaign statements show that he had expressed concern about the practice without promising to end it. On a West Virginia visit, when asked about the impact of the mining on the state’s streams, he said he wanted “strong enforcement of the Clean Water Act,” adding: “I will make sure the head of the Environmental Protection Agency believes in the environment.”
And his EPA administrator, Lisa Jackson, has said that the agency had “considerable concern regarding the environmental impact these projects would have on fragile habitats and streams.” She pledged that the agency would “use the best science and follow the letter of the law in ensuring we are protecting our environment.”
Soon afterward, the agency in effect blocked six major pending mountaintop removal projects in West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio.
But this month, after a series of White House meetings with coal companies and advocates including Rahall and Democratic West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin III, the EPA released the little-noticed letter giving the green light to at least two dozen projects.
“It was a big disappointment,” said Joan Mulhern, a lawyer for Earthjustice, an environmental law firm that has led court challenges to mountaintop removal. “It’s disturbing and surprising that this administration, headed by a president who has expressed concern about mountaintop removal, would let such a large number of permits go forward without explanation.”
So, I have another case where Obama-the-president falls short of the hope crafted by Obama-the-candidate. Obama clearly is head and shoulders above the Bush administration in the areas of environmental protection and paying attention to science, but that doesn’t mean he’s everything I could hope for. Bush routinely approved these mountaintop removals; Obama made a show of opposition, then let the coal industry (and the unions who delivered the presidency to him in Appalachia) call in their chits.
So, it makes me sad, and draws down a little further my store of goodwill. The man is, above all, a pragmatist, and pragmatically, as with torture prosecutions and gay marriage and decriminalization of marijuana, he has more to lose than to gain if he decides this issue the way I think he should. So that’s what we can expect going forward.
It makes me wonder: On issues like universal healthcare and global warming, how far out on a limb will he be willing to go, really? When push comes to shove, and it looks like those who supported him most ardently in 2008 have nowhere else to go, will the energy interests and the drug companies and the unions and whoever else is willing to push hard against any significant change succeed in pulling him back? Sometimes a compromise isn’t good enough. Sometimes you’re better off risking it all, even if the odds are against you, because what looks like the “safer” choice really isn’t safe.
At the end of the day, what does Obama stand for? What does he actually care about enough to spend this political capital that he’s so carefully hoarding? Anything? Or is the gaining of power really its own end? Is this just a smarter, outwardly friendlier version of the Mayberry Machiavellis?
I guess I’ll have to wait to find out.