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June 02, 2014 3:50 PM Yes, Obama is Now an Environmental President

By Ed Kilgore

As indicated earlier, it’s probably premature to attempt any deep assessment of the EPA climate change regulations that were released today. But Jonathan Chait’s estimate of the Obama administration’s intentions is safely accurate, and a sharp contrast with what many environmentalists concluded when the failure of climate change legislation did not lead immediately to the kind of regulations we are now seeing:

The lingering conclusion that Obama simply did not care about the environment made many of my fellow liberals doubt that Obama would ever take such a risky step. “I think this has the proverbial snowball’s chance in hell of actually happening, but don’t let anyone tell you Obama has no options,” wrote Matthew Yglesias. The failure of the EPA to immediately produce regulations prompted Joe Romm to conclude Obama was “delaying action.” When Obama’s budget did not include power plant regulations — which are not a budgetary item — Ryan Lizza wrote, “Nothing in his new budget follows through on that promise. And if that doesn’t, what will?” in a column headlined, “Has Obama Already Given Up on Climate Change.”
Obama’s climate agenda may well ultimately fail. If it does, it will be because it was thwarted by actors he cannot control: All five Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices may nullify his proposal, or a future Republican president may dismantle it, or the governments of China and other states may decide not to enter an international treaty. A president cannot save the planet. But it can no longer be fairly denied that Obama has thrown himself entirely behind the cause.

Now it’s possible environmentalists underestimate this president all along. But it’s also possible the White House reached a fork in the road and chose the right and bolder path after realizing that the rising tide of climate denialism among Republican pols and conservative activists had not yet fundamentally changed broad public support for action. Greg Sargent’s summary of a new WaPo/ABC poll on climate change and carbon emissions is indeed eye-opening:

* Among Americans overall, 69 percent say global warming is a serious problem, versus 29 percent who say it isn’t. Among Americans in the states carried by Mitt Romney in 2012, those numbers are 67-31. Among Americans in states carried by Barack Obama, they are 70-28.
*Americans overall say by 70-21 that the federal government should limit the release of greenhouse gases from existing plants to reduce global warming. In 2012 red states, those numbers are 68-24. In 2012 blue states, they are 72-20.
* Americans overall say by 70-22 that the federal government should require states to limit greenhouse gases. In 2012 red states, those numbers are 65-23. In 2012 blue states, they are 73-21. Even in red states, then, support for the feds stomping on states’ rights (on this issue at least) is running high.
* Americans overall say by 63-33 that the government should regulate greenhouses even if it increases their monthly energy bill by $20 per month. In the 2012 red states, those numbers are 60-35. In 2012 blue states, they are 64-32.
On every one of the above questions, in red states, large percentages of independents and moderates favor action. And more broadly, as you can see, those just aren’t meaningful differences between red and blue states on these questions. This applies even in nearly two dozen coal states [emphasis added].

All in all, it may be time to abandon the narrative that a timid and checked-out president has abandoned environmental action in the face of an industry and ideological assault that has utterly poisoned public opinion.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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