Will Obama Accomplish Pollution Goals Before His Second Term Ends?

On Tuesday, President Obama delivered an impassioned speech at Georgetown University that presented his administration’s multi-pronged plan to combat global warming and curb air pollution. Though the president also touched on similar issues during his State of the Union address earlier this year, a slew of unrelated issues — accusations, really — have distracted him from following up on his environmental promises.

In his latest speech, Obama announced three long-term goals he intends to pursue for the remainder of his second term: to reduce carbon emissions nationwide; to prepare Americans for the immenent effects of climate change; and to set a sustainable example for the rest of the world to follow.

“As a president, as a father, and as an American, I am here to say we need to act,” Obama told an enthusiastic audience at Georgetown University. “The question is not whether we need to act. The question is whether we will have the courage to act before it’s too late.”

He added: “This is a challenge that does not pause for partisan gridlock. It demands our attention now.”

The president was met with applause throughout his address. However, his surprising announcement about the controversial Keystone XL pipeline was the moment that had everyone talking after the speech concluded.

“Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest,” the president said. “And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward.”

Environmentalists were pleased to hear the president voice his ambivalence for the pipeline project; in March 2012, USA Today reported Obama’s plans to expedite construction of Keystone’s “southern leg”, which would stretch from Oklahoma to the Texas coast. Opponents of the pipeline worried the president’s eco-friendly principles (you know, the ones that helped him get elected in 2008) had been compromised by the allure of lower gas prices for frustrated American voters. Of course, this was prior to his victory during the 2012 election.

For those of you keeping track at home, Obama has just over 28 months left in office — and our country’s fossil fuel emission levels are still sky-high above most of the world. In fact, 2011 records indicate the United States emitted more carbon dioxide (5490.631 million metric tons) than Australia, Brazil, Venezuela, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Russia, Iran, and Saudi Arabia combined. Were it not for China’s epic collapse over the last decade — emission levels exceeded 8,000 million metric tons in 2011 — the the U.S. would be planet’s greatest offender.

More importantly, how will Obama’s plans change the nation’s attitudes toward hybrid vehicles, energy conservation, and other sustainability measures? The nation hasn’t been this divided since — well, one year into Dubya’s second term — and Americans on both sides of the spectrum are, quite frankly, losing their minds in their frustration with one another. Every issue is political these days, and every politician is using his or her position of power to draw clear lines in the sand.

So it should come as no surprise that there has been a little political backlash in the three days since Obama delivered his plan. Sen. Jim Inhofe [R-Okla.] accused the president of trying to “starve out fossil fuels and make them so expensive that people will have no choice but to try to go to alternatives”. U.S. Rep. Joe Perry of Pennsylvania accused Obama of both poor economic tactics and partisan attitudes. “Rather than working with Congress to enact common-sense energy policies,” he said in a statement issued on Tuesday, “President Obama has once again chosen to unilaterally impose costly new regulations that will stifle job creation”. Even Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia noted Obama’s “unreasonable restrictions” will have “disastrous consequences” on his state’s coal mining industry, which is the country’s second largest behind Wyoming’s.

Regardless of party affiliation, global warming is a cause we all need to get behind. Forget the deniers — they’re a much smaller minority than most people realize. If you understand the frightening implications of climate change, then chances are you’ve already begun to modify your lifestyle to some degree. Whether you’re riding your bike to work, taking lukewarm showers every morning, or planting trees on the weekend, keep doing good things and spreading the word to others. Despite the opponents, Obama’s climate change proposal has legs — and with any luck, he’ll be able to accomplish his goals before November 2008 and prepare this country for the tough climate issues that lay ahead. Because they’re coming.

By Brad Nehring