Obama’s Pollution Plan Falls Far Short Of What We Need

With much fanfare, two weeks back the Obama administration announced its proposed rules for regulating greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel-fired power plants.

The resulting fireworks were quite the sight.

Progressives tripped over themselves to laud the president for restoring his climate legacy.

The far right resorted – no joke – to calling the EPA an anarchist terrorist militia. (I could have sworn that award already went to our favorite government-hating-armed-racist, Cliven Bundy.)

Me? I held my applause and kept reading. In that state of suspended optimism, I came across two points – one local and one national – that checked my enthusiasm considerably.

First: Power plants on reservations are currently excluded from the regulation. This exclusion includes Four Corners Power Plant – the big, dirty, antiquated, polluting plant that sits in our own backyard.

Second: Obama’s policy is less ambitious than Republican Sen. John McCain’s proposed cap-and-trade plan of 2008.

On the local front – what’s an embattled community got to do to catch a break these days?

Declared an Energy Sacrifice Zone in the 1970s, home to almost 30,000 oil and gas wells and site of the largest point source for greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., northern New Mexico continues to be an environmental and social sacrifice zone in the 21st century.

As someone who loves this place and its people, I have no stomach or patience for the blinding political ideology and clear-eyed corporate greed that continue to diminish the health, well-being and future economic vitality of our communities.

As for the Obama vs. McCain policy proscriptions, this should shake progressives to their core.

McCain’s proposal detailed an economywide cap-and-trade program that would reduce total U.S. emissions 66 percent below 2005 levels by 2050.

In contrast, Obama’s plan envisions a 30 percent reduction by 2030 – but only for the power sector.

Why is this so significant – even beyond the numbers? It shows how far right political power has shifted in this country since the Great Recession. Progressives are content to celebrate policy platforms that would have embarrassed conservatives for their lack of ambition less than a decade ago. All the while, conservatives continue to pull ever harder to the increasingly anti-science and immoral right. Just ask U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

I can hear the refrain already: This is the best we could expect given the gridlock in Washington. At least we got something.

I don’t buy it. That’s not political strategy – it’s the pathology of small thinkers presenting their cowardice as strength by draping it with the moniker of political realism. It is the weakness of the left – leaving the right with no counterbalance – that is destroying our collective future.

I leave it to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to bring us home.

“Cowardice asks the question – is it safe?

“Expediency asks the question – is it politic?

“Vanity asks the question – is it popular?

“But conscience asks the question – is it right?

“And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular; but one must take it because it is right.”

This content first published in The Durango Herald’s Thinking Green Column here.

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