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Green Opinions

Has Obama become a smoggy failure?

by Martin Leggett 06 Sep 2011
Has Obama become a smoggy failure?

For those who have been looking to Obama to make a stand, and show leadership on the issue of climate change and the environment, he has finally delivered.

No more dithering, and hiding behind a smokescreen of vague words - it's time for action from the President. And action was what was he delivered.

Except that the leadership shown in this case was the ditching of green credentials, as fast as you can say Mitt Romney.

Last Friday, Obama announced that he was dropping proposals, long in the pipeline, to cut big-city smog. He had previously been committed to reducing the safe threshold for ozone levels to be 60-70 parts per billion.

The push for those lower levels came from strong science suggesting that levels above 40ppb were a health hazard for the public-at-large. It was supported by the EPA, and until last Friday, by the administration.

The timing of the announcement, just after the depressingly flat job numbers for August were released, revealed to many what is now at-play in Obama's mind - re-election. With an economy showing worrying signs of teetering back into recession, the President seems determined to avoid being tarred with the 'jobs-destroyer' brush.

Opponents of the smog-reducing proposals have cast the ozone-reducing measure - and indeed any other regulation coming from the EPA - as destructive to the American economy.

Barack Obama

Image Credit: Barack Obama © ActionSports

So clean healthy air now joins the lengthening list of green issues where Obama has decided to dance to the tune coming from Republican critics. Development of the blackest of carbon-emitting fossil fuels - the Canadian tar sands - is to be helped because of the gains in jobs and 'energy security'.

The nod for piping the stuff south across the border, to be refined in the US, was given two weeks ago. Oil from tar-sands has the highest carbon footprint of all the fossil fuels.

Laughably, that pipeline project is considered to have no net emissions - because if the US doesn't take tar-sand-derived oil, someone else will.

The option of avoiding the ballooning of greenhouse gases, by leaving the tar-sands in the ground, is not even considered. In fact, it seems that all discussion on climate change has already been discarded by Obama - with just oblique references to the creation of jobs through a 'clean economy'.

Quite how allowing the continued emission of pollutants that produce smog is part of a 'clean economy' is probably beyond most environmentalists, and most Americans. Ozone, which makes up the choking smog of much of urban America's air, is not some gas with a difficult-to-envisage effect on health.

It directly causes breathing difficulties, illness and premature death - with those living in high-smog cities like Houston and Los Angeles having a 30% higher chance of dying from lung-disease, according to respected research.


Image Credit: Pipeline © Alex Anin

Even setting to one side the human misery and tragedy implied by that research, dropping the ozone standards make no sense from a bared-boned economic perspective. Whilst controlling emissions will cost polluting industries, American society at large would benefit hugely from reduced health-costs. The much fabled 'clean economy' could become real, helping to create much-needed jobs, by making the technology needed to control smog.

But all of that is to be sacrificed on the altar of political expediency. Instead of the environment being an issue where a President Obama could define the visionary promise that swept him to power, it is instead exposing the venality and corruptness at the heart of American politics. That is to the President's shame, and the American people's loss.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

Top Image Credit: Los Angeles Smog © Odds and Bodkins

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