Richard Greene

Obama’s EPA has lost its balance

When it comes to defining the country’s environmental policy, there’s one thing Democrats and Republicans alike promise to do when they are seeking your vote.

They all say they will promote the proper balance between environmental quality and economic opportunity.

Being too heavy-handed with still more environmental regulation will hurt the economy. Too little and the quality of the environment and the health of Americans will be at risk.

Realizing the urgent need to do something about cities clouded in a yellow haze, rivers catching on fire and land abandoned after decades of abuse, Richard Nixon signed into law the first major initiatives to tackle such conditions 44 years ago.

There was very little controversy about the need to regulate the causes of pollution and thereby protect public health. All the major environmental laws of the 1970’s were the result of bipartisan action based on the twin objectives of achieving environmental quality and economic growth.

The outcomes have been nothing less than a remarkable success story. Our country’s environmental laws and regulations have led to longer and healthier lives for everyone in the United States.

At the same time, our economy, with its characteristic up-and-down cycles, has continued to grow and become the strongest in the world.

Maintaining that result in the era of Obama is another matter. To many observers, including a significant number in his own party, the president has all but forsaken any concern for the economy as he pursues a one-sided execution of his environmental policy initiatives.

His war on coal so proudly proclaimed during his campaign in 2008 is being waged with a vengeance. Remember? “So, if somebody wants to build a coal plant, they can — it’s just that it will bankrupt them…”

Today, with strong opposition from Democrats who represent states with economies dependent on coal, Obama’s EPA is on course to shut down coal-fired power plants, making many thousands of Americans jobless and putting the cost of electricity out of reach for countless others.

A better approach than abandoning such an abundant supply of domestic energy would be to encourage and support the promising emerging technologies to use coal in a manner that is of no more of a threat to our environment than wind turbines.

With polls showing huge public support for building the Keystone XL pipeline to carry Canadian oil to Gulf Coast refineries, Obama says — after five years — he is still studying the question.

Nothing less than the creation of tens of thousands of jobs, major cuts in the price of fuel and freeing us from dependence on oil from unfriendly countries is at stake.

Amid the countless things the president said in Tuesday’s State of the Union Address he’s going to do to make the government bigger, there wasn’t even a mention of what the pipeline would mean to our country.

A congressional oversight committee garnered testimony from a disgraced former senior EPA official, under oath, explaining an embarrassing chain of emails circulating through the agency that the president’s environmental end game is to “administratively kind of modify the DNA of the capitalist system.”

That testimony has caused the senior vice president of the Institute for Energy Research, a non-profit energy think tank, to conclude that the president’s policies are not about the environment or energy as much as they are about his determination to fundamentally transform America.

Previous presidents have left the air cleaner, the water purer and the land better protected while balancing those laudable outcomes with continued strength of the nation’s economy.

Obama will be the first among them unable to claim such a legacy.

Richard Greene is a former Arlington mayor and served as an appointee of President George W. Bush as regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency.