Now that we’re less than a year from the 2012 presidential election, it feels time to ask, how has President Obama done on the environment?
It depends who you ask, really. Some would say he’s far overreached with things like the Clean Air Act and the concept of cap and trade (which unraveled, you might remember). Others might say he lowballed it by far, removing the teeth from some EPA regulations and shying away from tougher protections of public lands, wildlife and natural resources.
But a new analysis from the left-leaning Center for Progressive Reform casts its verdict in a new quantitative study that compares Obama’s top promises with his actual accomplishments. The study’s result: Obama’s environmental record no better than Bush 43’s.
You might say, how does one measure that objectively? Good question. The researchers focused on a shadowy government agency known as the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), which helps craft federal rules designed to protect public health and the environment. To go into what this industry does would risk getting deep in the weeds of federal bureaucracy. But in short, OIRA was bolstered by an executive order signed by President Clinton in 1993 to ensure “the performance of the economy without imposing unacceptable or unreasonable costs on society.”
So, to do that, every major crackdown on industry or a specific field has to be run by OIRA’s economists. And who do OIRA’s economists consult to do that? Industry folks. Researchers found that under Obama’s watch, OIRA had “a 62 percent industry participation rate in its review meetings, down slightly from Bush II’s 68 percent.” OIRA’s consultation of public interest groups, like environmental advocates, was 16 percent under Obama, up slightly from Bush’s 10 percent.
It’s hard to see intrinsically how this matters. There’s an excellent article here with some fascinating examples. But this one is the best we found, and truly illustrative of OIRA’s influence under the Obama administration:
“In response to the Kingston, Tennessee coal ash sludge spill in 2008, the EPA proposed the coal ash rule. However, OIRA held it captive for six months and at the end of that period the proposal that emerged was so altered, that the rule will not come out until after the 2012 election.”