LAT on Obama on Mountaintop Removal

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.

8 Responses to “LAT on Obama on Mountaintop Removal”

  1. shcb Says:

    I really don’t think Obama is that ideological on the issues you hold so dear. I think he has some genuine empathy for the down trodden and poor especially if they are black. There was really nothing in his thin history to make one believe he much cared about radical environmental issues, or a drastic reversal of Bush policies. I think he just needed the far left to get elected. He didn’t need them for votes, where else are they going to go? He needed them for their vigor, their money, and enthusiasm. Swing voters are almost by definition followers, they don’t have any real core values so he needed them to feel they were part of something big. What better way to get them to follow but to have an enthusiastic crowd at every whistle stop and every blog, add a catchy phrase of “hope and change” and presto change we have a president. But now that he is in power there is a combination of I don’t need you and maybe Bush was right in his policies.

    He certainly has a soft spot for radicals. Telling his justice department to not prosecute what those on the scene called the worst case of voter intimidation will certainly come back to haunt him.

  2. J.A.Y.S.O.N. Says:

    I think this is kind of funny, but for different reasons. I read him as really being a center-left guy and a pragmatist during the election. Those were both pluses for me. I do think it’s funny that the farther left thought we’d celebrate 100 days with a new Prius in every garage and Bush and Cheney starting their life sentences. I’m sorry that people read that into his campaign. With this mountain top thing, I can’t blame the President for not wanting to cost more people jobs during the worst economic crisis in 30 years. He seems to be looking at it as ‘We’ll let them do it, and try to make it up on strict enforcement of existing regulations.’

    But, shcb, let’s really not talk shit. I know you’re really gleeful about everything Obama does that continues with Bush’s policy. It’s a mistake to think that everything Obama is reviewing visits upon him the divine wisdom of Bush’s approach. Some of it might be that with all the data Bush’s answer to a given issue makes more sense, some of it may be that it’s too huge of a problem to unravel with the snap of a finger. Likewise with the election. We all know that the campaign process in America is predicated on bullshit. The Republicans also need the far-right to get elected, all the nuts in the Christian coalition and a variety of scumbags and crooks, just like the Democrats. It’s the same with the swing voters. It’s not as though the Democrats needed them but the Republicans didn’t. Everything you said about “enthusiastic crowd at every whistle stop and every blog, add a catchy phrase of ‘hope and change'” was exactly what the McCain/Palin ticket were doing and selling. That campaign just turned out to not be as good at it and fell victim to events and McCain’s voting record in Congress. They both played exactly the same game.

  3. shcb Says:

    Jayson, you are absolutely correct, if I were blogging with a bunch of right wingers and a farther to the right conservative, say Alan Keyes had been elected on a platform of no more abortions (since that is in the news) I would be just as busy chiding them as naïve fools when their wishes weren’t fulfilled. You aren’t as far left as the rest of the crew here, I’m sure you remember the conversations here toward the end of the campaign of how all the world’s ills were magically going to disappear if Bush were gone. Honestly, not much would have been different if McCain had gotten elected, that is just the type of person the electorate was looking for this last election, that is why they both made it through the primaries.

    Obama is a masterful campaigner no doubt and he filled the bill for the “mommy make it stop crowd” he can look in the camera and make you think he feels your pain, because I think he really does, he doesn’t know how to make it stop but he feels it. Palin and McCain just don’t have that quality, Palin especially.

    I think I am most gleeful because whatever Obama does that Bush did validates that what Bush did was correct and that validates that my philosophy is correct. You don’t think I haven’t had doubts in the last 6 months about my philosophy? Try blogging on a site that is so diametrically opposed to your views day after day and month after month without having doubts. Every now and then I have to step back and see if what I believe still makes sense, and so far it has.

  4. enkidu Says:

    jbc – while we might want change to come at at he snap of Obama’s fingers, right now things aren’t looking very good for the US economy and the new green economy is barely off the delivery table, it will be a few years while things gear up and change over. Energy isn’t going to be cheap for long.

    There is a guy over at kos that has been on the mountaintop removal thing for years now. Meteor blades is his handle? I read his stuff and the science friday thing (about the only reason I visit there, because my instructions from George Soros now come over the radio implanted in my toothbrush ;-)

    I think things will change as we actually see the green wave really hit. It is coming, but we need to compromise (ugh) for the moment. I never said every decision of the bush crowd was wrong, just some really big ones (stem cells, 9/11, Iraq, Pak, NO/katrina, taxes, economy, debt, graft, crimes, torture – that’s about as compressed as i can make it).

    jayson, I have to take issue with your characterization of the two 2008 campaigns as playing exactly the same game. The crowds at McCain/Palin events screamed for the murder of the D candidate. They booed and screeched and wet their damn pants that a black man might actually be a better choice than a very old muddle of the road R and his awful choice for a VP (that numbskull a heartbeat from the Presidency? are you people really that insane? omg you really are that batsh!t…)

    Obama may not have delivered every last change on a ecofriendly platter in four months, but he is off to a good start (note, not great). Analyze, criticize, bellyache and kvetch. Push the powers that be and push back when you think you need to. You must be buying too much of the wwnj “hope n change? pshaw!” meme. By most metrics, the Obministration is better than the last crew. Now let’s hope we can change the policies when they aren’t any better than the last set of criminals and cretins. Let’s get to work!

  5. J.A.Y.S.O.N. Says:

    Enk, I was just thinking of the official campaigns themselves. In that, I didn’t count the people in the crowds, who at times were certainly something.

  6. Steve Says:

    If Obama has more to lose than to gain by supporting our values, then we need to work harder to reverse that equation. You mentioned 3 topics: torture, gay marriage, and marijuana decriminalization. Two of those are mostly handled at the state level.

  7. enkidu Says:

    jayson, I am sorry to disagree, but I think the two campaigns were light years apart. Compare any of the speeches or off the cuff remarks from the two VPs for instance. That is a pretty strong contrast. The messages were nearly 180˚ hope/change/renewall vs scary brack man! that one! socialism also!

    Steve… torture – we don’t any more. That is a good first step. Then prosecuting or at least investigating might be a good second step. Gay marriage. Drop the marriage and make civil contracts (like btwn my wife and I) as strong as the legal status of ‘marriage’ then leave ‘marriage’ up to the church, not the state? Marijuana decriminalization: smart move. Legalizing it would be even better as it is much less harmful than tobacco. Or alcohol. No one beats up their girlfriend and then smashes their truck after smoking a joint. No one. Besides the snack food industry could use the boost. Besides it could help increase revenues if we enact taxes on junk food, cigs and various libations. My hope is the governator makes it decriminalized and then we gradually move into legalization.

  8. leftbehind Says:

    I don’t know if legalization of marijuana would be such a good idea, Enk. I mean, I realize that pot is hardly the worst drug around, but it certainly clouds one’s judgement and makes you a lot more liable to make stupid decisions. Remember when JBC smoked that big fatty, then made you a moderator on his blog? Is it really in the best interest of society for the Government to officially sanction anything that creates that sort of mental cloudiness?

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