PWIR: Obama Can Afford to Ignore You

A weekly update on environmental policy happenings from Ryan Werder, Political Director for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters (Twitter: @rjwerder).

I just couldn’t bring myself to go see the President in Detroit yesterday after what he did last week. His decision to ignore serious air quality concerns by swatting back the EPA’s proposed update to the fourteen year-old ozone standard will have consequences for public health. There is an important lesson for conservation-minded voters hidden inside the repercussions of his decision.

An attempt to unravel that mystery and other important news in this week’s Political Week in Review.

Rethinking Obama after the Ozone Outrage

The anger from environmental groups, the American Lung Association (ALA), and others is in regard to Obama’s decision not to update the Ozone standard is profound and deep. When you think of smog and hard-to-breathe air, well, that’s what the Ozone Standard regulates. And, thanks to Obama failing to raise them, we’re still stuck on a standard set fourteen years ago.

I will leave it to the ALA’s strongly worded statement to explain why the impact of this decision is poor policy and poor public health, but I want to look at why it is poor politics.

First of all, President Obama just lent fuel to the fire that Representative Upton and other leading Republicans lit under the EPA; he adopts theirfalse premise that somehow environmental progress comes at the expense of jobs. People want jobs not just for jobs’ sake, but to support their families. So please explain to me how a new standard that would prevent 12,000 premature deaths, 5,300 heart attacks, and tens of thousands of cases of asthma each year is bad for American families. Instead, as the Republicans in Congress continue to assault the EPA they can simply point to Obama and say, “See! The President agrees with us that the EPA is killing American jobs!”

Now, say you’re the average voter who cares about Michigan’s Great Lakes, our forests, drinking water, and beaches. The President just made a remarkably bad decision that negatively affects all those Pure Michigan things. Are you going to vote for one of the leading Republican Presidential contenders? Bachmann and Perry openly deride science. Romney has flip-flopped on climate change and now doesn’t believe in it. Jon Huntsman seems like The Lorax by comparison, simply by virtue of not denying that science should guide our decisions on the environment.

Obama, and Democrats in general, believe that they can pull stunts like this all term long because, ultimately, they believe that all they are losing is enthusiasm from their environmental allies, not their votes. In short, until the citizens of this country begin electing Teddy Roosevelt-like, conservation-minded Republicans in primary election races to set up a viable general election option where conservationists can mark their ballots, we will continue to be mistreated by Democrats and ignored by Republicans. Suffice to say, I can’t wait for primary season for both Parties.

Feeling fired up? President Obama needs to hear from you! So do candidates on both sides of the aisle, from those running for president to those running for county commission. Want to ensure that a strong conservation/environmental message gets through to candidates across the the spectrum on both sides of the aisle? Want to get ready NOW for real work in 2012 primary elections battles? A contribution of $100, $50, or even $35 to Michigan LCV means hundreds of pieces of direct mail, thousands of phone calls, or even a couple days of work for a canvasser in a key neighborhood.

The Sulfide Mining Saga reaches a crossroads

Rio Tinto, the massive mining conglomerate, is on the threshold of beginning to blast away (literally) one of the most beautiful areas of Michigan that, incidentally, is a sacred site of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community. The Keweenaw and other conservation groups filed for an emergency stay in Circuit Court to keep Rio Tinto from lighting the fuses.

Yes, you could be excused for confusing this situation for a blockbuster Hollywood legal drama. Frankly, it’s not far off. In fact, I think I might start writing that now. I’m worried how the screenplay would end, though. In my ideal version of the film, these activists, organizations, and attorneys who have fought this dangerous mine so fervently for years would battle their way through the legal system. They would arrive at a Michigan Supreme Court that features a nail-biting case (I’m thinking a montage would work well for this part) where an opinion is written by the newest elected member of the Court who saves the sacred land, the trout streams, and the drinking water it all filters into. The state would then celebrate with increased tourism spending, and the evil CEO – played by Kevin Bacon, I think – would slouch back to his office to prepare for the sequel.

But there is the paradox of good fiction; it isn’t real.

Instead, the reality is that the 2010 elections caused the inspiration for that fictional Justice mentioned above to lose his seat; in November of last years, he was replaced by a different Justice who set his sights on such things as dismantling the Michigan Environmental Protection Act, which he did within the first few swings of the gavel. Should this new Supreme Court Justice have the chance to rule on the sulfide mining case, which is real and is now in the Appellate Court, he would likely vote in a similarly anti-environmental fashion.

For now, we must hope that the current Michigan Appellate Court Judge decides in favor of the Keewanaw Indians, the Salmon Trout River, and, ultimately, Lake Superior. If not, then the 2012 election hands us–the citizens of Michigan– the opportunity to write my personal screen play in the form of three seats on the Supreme Court that will be up for election. It’s not too early to start writing our version of the story…and work to protect one of the most beautiful and pristine areas of Michigan.

Losing Ground: Conservation leaders come together to talk hunting and climate change

Last week, Congressman Dingell and a panel of some of the greatest conservationists in Michigan spoke of the threats to the beautiful and ecologically important areas of the state that hunters and anglers know better than anyone. I was incredibly proud to moderate the panel. You canclick here for media coverage of the event, but please stay tuned as we work to make the audio of that event available, as well.

For the time being, I’ll just transcribe a quick quote from the event from Becky Humphries – the Regional Director for Ducks Unlimited and the former Director of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment – to close out this PWIR:

“When we look at the future, one of the greatest challenges we’re really facing is us… It’s really our vanishing heritage and outdoor use.”

Until next week,

Ryan Werder
Political Director


0 replies
  1. Charles Hausmann
    Charles Hausmann says:

    President Obama did the right thing to delay the new EPA clean air standard. Even he has come to realize that the perfect world you envision can’t be achieved and that there are costs and consequences to pushing the standards higher in the current economic environment.

    We now have cars that product less CO2/mile than an adult male jogger but that’s still not good enough for a perfect world. Let’s ban adult male joggers to take another set closer to your perfect world. Or better still, let’s exterminate 75% of adult males. We only need a few.

    If you think the economy is not a consideration, try trout fishing in India.


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