The Environment Still Needs Attention in This Election

As the race for the White House moves into the final stretch, the faltering U.S. economy is the topic as unemployment continues to hover at uncomfortably high levels throughout the country, effectively pushing other seemingly less important issues to the side. Environmental issues remain especially marginalized for a number of reasons. Still, even though environmental innovations do not always generate immediate revenue or directly create jobs, they deserve attention. Fixing the wayward economy and putting Americans back to work may be moot points if indeed there is no sustainable environment in which to work, and in the end, green energy will equal green dollars.

Some think President Barack Obama’s performance on environmental issues has been mediocre at best, especially given a number of broken promises. Campaigning for the 2008 election, he pledged to invest $110 billion during the next ten years into continued research and development in biofuels and “green” technology. This investment would also require half of the vehicles purchased by the government to be plug-in hybrids. Likewise, the government would invest in low-emission coal plants, newly developed renewable energies, and a transition to a digital power grid.

Obama assured voters that these technologies would be developed in the U.S. and deployed globally, giving America a head start in the development and incorporation of a fledgling growth industry. He also promised to double fund for research in clean energy projects and create a capital venture fund to support further research in clean energies. All told, these projects would equal a commitment of $10 billion a year for five years. Finally, he claimed he would set America on a course towards independence from its need for foreign oil.

Most of Obama’s environmental dream has been just that — a dream. When he took office in 2009, the country was well into the beginning of the current financial crisis. In all fairness, the President was forced to devote most of his and his administration’s time and resources to staving off a nationwide depression. Promises such as investments of $110 billion in environmental funding seemed impractical, even irresponsible, as the government struggled to meet payments that would keep Social Security and other government programs solvent, at least for the time being. Accordingly, the President has done little to actualize major environmental advancements in this country.

To his credit, Obama has managed to initiate the development of at least a few green technologies, but he has fallen short on most significant implementations, such as the requirement to have half of the government’s new vehicles be hybrids. Global warming legislation passed the House but stalled in the Senate, and Obama used his State of the Union address to lay blame for this shortcoming on the steps of the U.S. Capitol rather than the White House.

Of course, in a bad economy, environmentalism faces fierce resistance when jobs are on the line, and often for good reason. Critics continue to attack Obama for his opposition to the Keystone XL project, which would pump crude oil from Alberta to refineries on the Texas coast. Squandering job opportunities is the last thing on most politicians’ minds right now. Obama has stood his ground by mentioning the administration’s opening of millions of additional acres for offshore oil exploration in the Gulf of Mexico despite the BP oil spill two years ago. Moreover, by supporting a cap and trade system to reduce carbon emissions, he maintains his commitment to making America a leader in the global warming arena.

Not surprisingly, Mitt Romney supports the Keystone XL project and opposes the cap and trade system to reduce carbon emissions. He believes that solving our environmental problems lies in a market approach that would support growth as well. Romney also believes that instead of establishing mandates, we should use innovation to create more efficient energy production. Regardless, America’s elected officials must maintain a dialog on the environment despite their ideological differences. Everyone’s health and safety depend on this necessary conversation.