Wednesday, over at Think Progress, Jon Hamm wrote a short post about former President Bill Clinton's environmental politics, which featured a fairly lengthy excerpt from Clinton's recent talk at the London School of Economics. You can read the whole thing here, but the crux is the following quote: "...what I am trying to do, literally all the time, is to prove that saving the planet is better economics than burning it up. Not 10 or 20 or 50 years from now—[but] now."
Clinton certainly has one of the more impressive environmental records of any President. Using the Antiquities Act of 1906, for example, he designated more than three million acres of government land as national monuments, more than even Teddy Roosevelt, that pioneer of American conservation. Yet Clinton also supported a disastrous supplemental funding bill in 1995 that opened up national forests to "salvage logging," a controversial practice that can be used to bypass EPA protections and various environmental laws, and that some scientists say raises the likelihood of forest fires.
This sort of muddy progressivism is typical of Democratic politicians. Obama may have devoted $80-some billion of the stimulus to renewable energy (and related programs), but radical environmental reform has hardly been a priority, so instead he's been left to answer wildly misinformed questions from Mitt Romney. Maybe you remember this Romney line from the first Presidential debate: "You put $90 billion into green jobs… And these businesses, many of them have gone out of business, I think about half of them, of the ones have been invested in have gone out of business." Turns out pretty much none of that is true; it also conveniently ignores Romney's investments in renewable energy as governor of Massachusetts. As a recent article in the Wall Street Journal points out:
Early in his term, Mr. Romney appeared at Konarka Technologies Inc., which had won approval for $1.5 million in first-round public funding shortly before Mr. Romney took office. He handed over the funds to Konarka, a solar panel maker, and used that appearance to announce the start of his own $15 million Green Energy Fund...
The Romney clean-energy fund went on to make 14 investments in green-energy concerns. Three of those have gone under, said William Osborn, a founding partner of the Massachusetts Green Energy Fund. He added that the governor never raised concerns about the program. "There were plenty of opportunities for him to say, 'This is a bad thing for government to do,' " said Mr. Osborn, a Democrat. "None of that happened."
Exactly what kind of president Romney would be is anyone's guess, but I doubt all that much would be different. Every presidential candidate likes to make a lot of bold statements about energy independence and environmental conservation, and yet here we are more than 30 years after Jimmy Carter and the OPEC oil embargo and I can't say we're all that better off, environmentally speaking.
I appreciate, for example, that Obama's bailout of the auto industry included provisions for higher fuel economy standards but anyone who's watched Who Killed the Electric Car? isn't likely to be comforted by the fact that new cars in 2025 will average around 40mpg. As to whether or not Obama in his second term will take environmental issues more seriously, that too is anyone's guess. As Erich Pica, President of the non-profit Friends of Earth, said in a recent report for Corporate Knights, "If I were to extrapolate the last four years to the next four years, I’m not expecting huge monumental environmental pushes… Obama’s just been too cautious as a president."