Obama’s first year, pt. 2

Patrick Miner

Last week’s column focused on
Obama’s wars in the Middle East.
This week’s topic is his environmental
policy. There are few surprises
in this area – anyone who
read Obama’s campaign platform
during the election knew that the
only plans he would put forward
regarding environmental policy
would have superficial results at
In his recent State of the Union
address, Obama said, “To create
more of these clean energy jobs,
we need more production, more
efficiency, more incentives. And
that means building a new generation
of safe, clean nuclear power
plants in this country.”
Obama announced Tuesday
that the government will provide
more than $8 billion in federal loan
guarantees to Southern Company,
headquartered in Georgia, to build
two new nuclear power plants.
Southern Company and its
employees have given over $6 million
to the Republican Party since
1990 and donated hundreds of
thousands of dollars to both of
George Bush’s presidential campaigns.
According to The Independent,
“Haley Barbour, one of the main
lobbyists for Southern Co. when
President Bush took office, played
a crucial role in persuading him
to back away from his original
campaign promise to reduce CO2
emissions when he first ran for
president in 2000.”
Several executives of Southern
Company were also major contributors
to Obama’s presidential campaign.
Two vice presidents within
the company gave the maximum
contribution amount of $2,300 and
others gave over $1,000.
Southern Company, a longtime
opponent of cutting emissions,
will begin constructing the first
new nuclear power plant to have
been built in the past 30 years.
Nuclear power is not a clean
source of energy. Thousands of
tons of nuclear waste are created
each year by the 104 plants currently
in operation and there is
no place to store this waste safely.
Each nuclear power station is now
storing its own waste in canisters,
but that method is not a permanent
solution, since the waste will
remain radioactive for thousands
of years.
The present 104 plants are in
disrepair, and accidents are commonplace.
Regulation of safety
and the condition of the stations
is nearly nonexistent. In August
2009, a radioactive leak of tritiumpolluted
water from a station in
New Jersey contained 500 times
the accepted radiation levels for
drinking water. As many as 7,200
gallons were leaked daily.
Of course, nuclear power
plants are outrageously expensive,
and Southern Co. would never
build the plants if it were not
for the loan guarantees. There is
no reason to spend billions on
new nuclear power plants when
old plants are dangerously falling
apart and other energy sources
such as wind and solar power are
cheaper, cleaner, safer, easier to
maintain and much, much faster
to implement.
There are zero benefits to
nuclear power – zero. Yet Obama
and his administration support it
fervently and are planning to use
$8 billion of taxpayer money to
subsidize the industry.
Obama has failed on the international
stage as well. In December,
after being questioned about the
Copenhagen Summit results, he
said, “I mean, I think that people
are justified in being disappointed
about the outcome in Copenhagen.
What I said was essentially that
rather than see a complete collapse
in Copenhagen, in which
nothing at all got done and would
have been a huge backward step, at
least we kind of held ground, and
there wasn’t too much backsliding
from where we were.”
The Copenhagen Accord is not
legally binding, does not set emission
reduction requirements, and
strongly favors rich nations over
developing nations. The accord
accomplishes nothing.
Lumumba Di-Aping of the
Republic of Sudan, chair of the
G77, which represents 130 developing
nations, said of the accord,
“It represents the worst development
in climate change negotiations
in history. And I say this
because gross violations – gross
violations have been committed
today against the poor, against
tradition of transparency and participation
on equal footing by all
nations and parties to the convention,
and against common sense,
because the architecture of this
deal is extraordinarily flawed.”
The Copenhagen Accord was
drafted by the U.S., China, India,
Brazil and South Africa in a series
of private meetings. Obama was
heavily involved in its drafting; he
personally participated in the talks
which resulted in the accord.
Then, Jan. 28, the Obama
administration made formal its
plan to reduce greenhouse gas
emissions by 17 percent below
2005 levels by 2020. This figure
of 17 percent might seem, at first
glance, disappointing, but not too
far from the 25 to 40 percent
reductions other countries are
making. However, there is a crucial
difference: Every other country is
using 1990 levels as a benchmark.
Obama’s plan will reduce emissions
by a mere four percent below
1990 levels by 2020. With other
countries reducing emissions by
40 percent, it’s difficult to consider
the barely noticeable four
percent reduction proposed by
Obama as anything other than a
distraction from actual progress.
By changing which year to use
as a baseline to make the figure
appear less pathetic, Obama has
only underscored his inability to
effect real change.
Next week: The conclusion to
my three-part column on Obama’s
first year.