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Sun and Sanity


This is the second week of protests, led by Bill McKibben, in front of the White House demanding that President Barack Obama reject a proposed 1700 mile pipeline transporting the dirtiest oil from Alberta, Canada through fragile ecologies down to the Gulf Coast refineries. One thousand people will be arrested there from all fifty states before their demonstration is over. The vast majority voted for Obama and they are plenty angry with his brittleness on environmental issues in general.

Following the large BP discharge in the Gulf of Mexico, Obama gave the OK to expand drilling over 20 million acres in the Gulf and soon probably in the Arctic Ocean. He delayed clean air rules over at EPA. Following the worsening Fukishima nuclear disaster last March in Japan, he reaffirmed his support for more taxpayer guaranteed nuclear plants in the U.S. adding his Administration’s hopes to learn from the mistakes there.

He proposed an average fuel efficiency standard for 2005 at 62 miles per gallon, quickly conceded to industry’s objection and brought it down to 54 mpg. The industry’s trade journal Automotive News calculated the loopholes and brought it down to “real-world industry wide fleet average in the 2025 model year” of about 40 mpg. No wonder the auto companies effusively praised Obama’s give-it-up negotiator, Ron Bloom at the Treasury Department of all places.

Were Obama to look out his White House window and see the arrested and handcuffed demonstrators against this $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline, he might think: “This will upset my environmental supporters, but heck, where can they go in November 2012?” 

He is right. No matter what Mr. Obama does to surrender environmental health and safety to corporatist demands, they will vote for him. They certainly won’t vote for the Republican corporate mascots. They wouldn’t vote for a Green Party candidate either. This is not only the environmentalists’ dilemma, it is the liberal/progressive/labor union dilemma as well. They have no bargaining power with Obama.

He did not propose a carbon tax when the Democrats controlled Congress in 2009-2010. Even Exxon prefers a carbon tax to the corruption-inducing complex cap and trade bill the House passed only to have the Senate sit on it. So doing nothing on climate change is soon to be followed by approval of the destructive tar sands pipeline which will add significantly to greenhouse gases.

Pipelines have been busting out recently in California, near Yellowstone and in Pennsylvania. People died and water was polluted. Pipeland standards are old, weak and hardly enforced by the tiny pipeline safety office at the Department of Transportation. Obama hasn’t been pushing for needed money and stronger standards with tougher enforcement.

Over-riding, in Obama’s mind, is being accused of blocking job formation. But had he pushed for a major public-works program in 2009, as many economists still beg him to do, he wouldn’t be in the position of being called a job-destroyer. He also is sensitive to rebuttable charges that he would be preferring future oil from unfriendly countries abroad to Canadian oil.

You can see the corner he is in because he didn’t come out strongly for major solar, wind power, energy conservation and immediate retrofit programs in 2009. Instead he swallowed the oil industry line that his proposed energy policy should be a mix of fossil fuels, nuclear power, solar and conservation in that order. No, Mr. Obama, some energy sources are too superior in too many ways to be a part of this manipulative greenwashing propaganda displayed in oil company newspaper ads.

Even nature contradicts Mr. Obama. Obama’s Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) recently gave a pass to the Indian Point Unit 2 Reactor, a menacingly-troubled reactor 30 miles north of Manhattan, after its inspectors discovered a refueling-cavity liner had been leaking for years at rates up to 10 gallons per minute. Just last week the strongest earthquake in 140 years struck the east coast. Even though the liner’s “sole safety function is the prevention of leakage after a seismic event,” according to David Lochbaum of the Union of Concerned Scientists, the NRC did not require the plant’s owner to repair the design defect.

This is only one of many defects, inspection lapses, close calls, corrosions, and ageing problems with many U.S. nuclear plants that Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu and President Obama have not seriously addressed. This is the case even though the news from Fukishima becomes worse every week. More food is found contaminated. Radiation readings at the site reached their highest level in August. Now the Japanese government is about to declare a wide area around the nine destroyed or disabled nuclear plants uninhabitable for decades to come due to radiation.

Nearly fifty years ago, the industry regulator and vigorous promoter, the Atomic Energy Commissions estimated that a class nine nuclear meltdown in the U.S. would contaminate “an area the size of Pennsylvania.” That was before we had dozens of even larger ageing nuclear plants whose owners are brazenly pressing for license extensions beyond the normal life expectancy of many over-the-hill nuke plants. Please face up to it Mr. President.

At moments of reflection, those 1000 citizens standing tall before the White House must look up at the sun and all the forms of available renewable energy it gave this planet zillions of years ago and wonder how nuts our life-sustaining star must think Earthlings have been all these years.

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate and author of the fictional Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! 

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