Robert Redford: Is the Obama Administration Putting Corporate Profits Above Public Health?

Robert Redford in a HuffPost repost

One reason I supported President Obama is because he said we must protect clean air, water and lands. But what good is it to say the right thing unless you act on it?

Since early August, three administration decisions — on Arctic drilling, the Keystone XL pipeline and the ozone that causes smog — have all favored dirty industry over public health and a clean environment. Like so many others, I’m beginning to wonder just where the man stands.

For months, the Environmental Protection Agency has been poised to issue new ozone rules to reduce the smog that causes asthma attacks and other respiratory ills. We badly need these new standards, which the EPA estimates could prevent 12,000 premature deaths a year.

On Friday, though, the White House put the new rules on ice. The result: these vital protections will be delayed until at least 2013 – conveniently after next year’s presidential election.

The week before, the State Department gave a preliminary green light to the proposed Keystone XL, a pipeline that would carry crude oil from Canadian tar sands to Texas refineries.

If this pipeline wins final approval from the administration in the coming months, it will wed our energy future to the dirtiest oil on the planet. It will invest this country in one of the most destructive mining practices ever devised. And it will put farmers, ranchers and cropland at risk across the great plains of the American heartland. That’s why the Republican governor of Nebraska came out against it this week.

And just last month, the Interior Department gave conditional approval to Shell Oil’s plan to begin drilling four exploratory wells in the Arctic waters off of Alaska’s North Slope as early as next summer. Congress has yet to pass a single law strengthening offshore drilling safeguards in the wake of last year’s BP blowout, and we’re giving Shell the go-ahead to drill in some of the nation’s most fertile fishing grounds, in waters that are iced in eight months each year and in a location a five-day journey by ship from the nearest Coast Guard station.

What’s going on here?

In all three cases, the administration’s decisions have come in the face of a withering industry lobbying campaign based on the usual mix of fear mongering and lies.

With our economy staggering and unemployment at 9.1 percent, some of the biggest corporate polluters in the country and their allies in Congress are suddenly talking about jobs.

Lobbyists from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and other powerful corporate interests have spent the summer pressuring the White House to kick new smog standards down the road. If we have to clean up the mess we make, they say, we won’t hire any new workers.

Really? American companies can’t hire workers unless they’re allowed to make our air so dirty our people get sick, miss work and die? That’s nonsense. Companies hire workers to fill orders for their products and services. Cleaning up after themselves is a cost of doing business, and it’s a necessary cost. This isn’t about jobs; it’s about profits.

The fact is, federal safeguards for public health, worker safety and our environment generated up to $655 billion in measurable economic benefits over just the past decade, at a cost to industry of $62 billion — at most — according to the White House Office of Management and Budget.

Even on a strict economic analysis, in other words, the national benefits of federal safeguards outweigh costs by more than 10 to 1. Read the report for yourself.

I want our smog levels to come down so more of our children and seniors can breathe clean air. Putting corporate profits above public health is unconscionable. It’s outrageous that it would be countenanced — by this president or any other.

Similarly on Keystone XL, this is a terrible idea for the country. It needs to be stopped. That’s the message more than 1,000 concerned Americans have delivered directly to Obama, through White House demonstrations over the past two weeks. If you want to help, click here.

Because the pipeline would cross our border with Canada, it’s an international project that can’t go forward without a presidential determination that it’s in our national interest.

It’s not. It’s in the interest of big oil companies. When you check, though, you find they’re doing okay. They piled up profits topping $67 billion in just the first six months of this year.

I’m all for profits. But not when they come from something as destructive as tar sands.

Already in the Boreal forests of Alberta, tar sands production has made a strip mine of an area the size of Orlando, Fla. It’s scarred and poisoned, perhaps forever.

The Keystone XL would cut through parts of Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma en route to the Gulf ports of Houston and Port Arthur, Tx. It would expose our heartland to the kinds of ruptures and blowouts that just in the past year have brought disaster to the Yellowstone River, the North Sea and the Gulf of Mexico.

I was reminded of those disasters three weeks ago, when the administration gave a conditional go-ahead to Shell’s plan to drill in the Arctic. Instead of going to the ends of the earth to feed our national addiction to oil, and putting irreplaceable waters, habitat and even the American breadbasket at risk, we need to invest in the clean energy strategies of tomorrow. That’s the way to put Americans back to work, developing renewable sources of power and fuel and building the next generation of energy efficient cars, homes and workplaces.

President Obama has done a lot to protect public health and our environment. He’s championed clean-energy investments, high-speed rail and cuts in the carbon emissions that are warming our planet. He’s promoted efficiency gains in home and commercial appliances that will save us all billions of dollars each year. And the agreement he reached earlier this summer on vehicle gas mileage goals will cut our oil use by a breathtaking three million barrels a day by 2030.

Those are all positive steps and strong.

But we have to keep moving forward. This is no time to turn back from the progress we need.

I have to believe that President Obama still knows it’s important to protect clean air, water and lands. Like so many, I’m waiting for him to stand up for all that. I’m waiting for him to stand up for our future. But we can’t wait forever.

— Robert Redford

15 Responses to Robert Redford: Is the Obama Administration Putting Corporate Profits Above Public Health?

  1. Lazarus says:

    Hear! Hear!

    One of the most articulate arguments for the protection of the environment I have ever heard – lets hope everyone hears it.

  2. John McCormick says:

    Are we approaching a critial mass of Obama’s critics. If we are, who out there has a Plan B…or do we wait and bitch until sometime late in 2012? Then……what?

    I wonder how the big green justify their salaries? Don’t hear much from Eileen and Pew’s gang of Business Environmental Leadership Council.

    Where are OUR leaders. We count on each other, I guess.

  3. Brian M says:

    The issue is politics. Politically, the equation seems pretty simple. The administration is simply assuming that progressives are not going to vote for any Republican. They assume that given a choice between any of the Republicans likely to be nominated, Obama, and staying home, the base will vote for Obama.

    I’m not entirely sure they’re right, but they probably are.

    Absent a legitimate primary progressive challenge to a sitting president (pretty unlikely), this appears to be the calculus. Even if you had a primary challenge from somebody with true progressive cred and national name recognition (who?), and even if that person somehow got the nomination (unlikely), could they pull enough independents and moderate Republicans to win the general? Very iffy at best.

    For better or worse, the admin figures that the left is stuck with Obama or bust for this election cycle. I think they’re probably right. So, get use to the idea of being disappointed for another 4 years… the only question is, how disappointed will you be?

  4. Jeff Huggins says:

    Bravo to Robert Redford. This is both excellent and moving. But …

    That said, Robert’s comments seem to leave the same-old mixed message that enables a lack of progress. Even as he critiques President Obama — and rightly so — regarding major recent decisions, and wonders about where the man stands, he implies that he still supports Obama, leaving one to wonder whether or when Redford will ever stop supporting Obama, no matter what Obama does.

    Thoughtful, responsible, genuine, credible, and immensely admired people like Redford are the ones who will have to say “enough is enough” if we’re to get the changes we so badly need. They’re the ones who will have to muster the backbone to take positions like this: “President Obama, if you want our votes and support, you will have to not approve Keystone XL. If you approve Keystone XL, you will lose our votes and support. Period. Got it?”

    People like Redford — along with the rest of us, or as many as possible — will have to take such stands if we’re ever going to get the progress we need.

    So I admire Redford, his ideals, his writing. But I think he and others should begin to take much stronger stands. In fact, we should all be taking much stronger stands. In fact, we should have been doing so years ago.

    I’m almost done writing a proposed guest post on this very question, and perhaps in a week or so I’ll be able to press the “send” button.

    Be Well,


  5. Wonhyo says:

    This was a good article until the very last paragraph. After lamenting that Obama has put corporate profits over public health in every major environmental decision to date, the author concludes by expressing hope that Obama will magically stand up and fight for environmental interests at some undetermined future point in time.

    Essentially, the author has written another blank check in support of Obama.

    As much as I abhor the denialism of climate science, I’m recognizing another form of denialism that enables climate science deniers to get their way. When liberals repeatedly deny that their chosen leader is actually supporting the other side, liberals end up advancing the Right Wing agenda, then take the blame for the disastrous outcome.

  6. Sasparilla says:

    Rob, if you were looking, you would have seen all this coming from the very beginning of the administration (back before the Administration went into election mode).

    Back in 2009, after the election, the House leadership was astounded when they had to goad the administration to lobby House members to pass the climate bill. In June of 2009, when the price of oil was crashing and no political pressure, the President approved the original Keystone 1 tar sands pipeline giving the Alberta tar sands their first large scale market – its now delivering ~10% of US oil imports in tar sands oil to midwest refineries. And it just goes on and on.

    The administration, unfortunately, has been this way from the beginning. President Obama talked a great game on climate change prior to being elected (and will again no doubt if the poling says to), heck it was one of the three primary legs of his agenda going into the White House and I took him at his word, like everyone else did.

    The President might talk a good game during the runup to the election on climate change, again, but don’t expect him to act any differently than he did during his first term.

    Rob, there’s an old saying that seems particularly apt here – Fool me once, shame on you. Fool be twice, shame on me.

  7. RaulM. says:

    If D.C. does face a real hurricane and the leaders stay in the new underground shelter for the storm time, I think that it will give new credence to concept of having ones own shelter.
    Certainly, the shelter shouldn’t be tagged as an
    activists aberration once the leaders find it necessary to seek comfortable shelter themselves.

  8. Mimikatz says:

    The Administration seems only to care about independents. They do believe Progressives will at least vote for Obama, although they have to understand e money won’t be there as it was in 2008. The key is persuading them that independents care about clean air as much as Progressives do. That they don’t buy the GOP spin that regulations cost jobs. That they care about their kids and aged parents.

    I have seen polling to the effect that small business actually likes many regulations because they protect them from the real predators, the large companies. There needs to be some polling that explores the beliefs of independents and some more education if the public at least partially commensurate with what the extraction industries do.

  9. Mimikatz says:

    If it is Rick Perry, though, there really is no other choice. It will be a very ugly election, and the consequences will be even worse than with Bush II.

    Don’t ever think it is about what you want; it is always about what the country, and the least among us, can withstand.

  10. dick smith says:

    The “who” is Bernie Sanders–running as either an independent or a Democrat. But, of course, he’d never do it.

  11. Mark Shapiro says:

    Could any American President make a decision that might raise the price of gasoline by as much as a penny in today’s media climate?

    I don’t think so. Clinton raised the gas tax 4 cents in 1993, then lost the House in 1994.

    Yes, we should be disappointed in Obama, but attack the real enemies: Kochs, Murdochs, Tillerson, etc.

    And reduce the demand for gas long term: high speed rail, compact, livable cities and towns, hybrids. Support the solutions that Republicans uniformly deride. It’s hard work, it will take lifetimes.

  12. Robert says:

    I live in Utah. As things stand, I likely won’t be casting a vote for President in 2012. Whoever the nutty GOP nominee is, they’ll win in Utah by a landslide. So I register my electoral protest by not running up the President’s numbers in a state he’ll lose anyway…

    It’s a small gesture, but what else have I got?

  13. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    We don’t have lifetimes.

    We need an effective president in the Whitehouse in 2012.

    The only ways I’ve heard about for achieving that is through Obama retiring, or being ousted as the Democrat candidate.

    Are there any other options for getting the necessary climate action ?



  14. kermit says:

    But you’re voting for other offices, right Robert? We don’t want them to think we are merely apathetic. I want to send the message that true Progressive politics and taking global warming seriously is necessary for my vote. I cannot vote for Obama again – he has shown that the corporate elite rank higher in his book than jobs, legal rights, and most importantly, the lives of all of our grandchildren. I’ll vote Green for president, and sort out the other offices one by one.

  15. Gregg Jocoy says:

    Robert and Kermit, as a member of the South Carolina Green Party steering committee, I totally understand. I too live in a state where the Republican nominee is going to win, even if they nominate Satan himself. I have opted to spend my energies with the Green Party.

    As a Green in South Carolina I was able to encourage Tom Clements to run for US Senate against Senator Jim DeMint, one of the most reactionary members of the Congress. As a Green I have been able to encourage young people like Dante Swinton to run for the state legislature. He ran as a fusion candidate, nominated by the Green and Democratic parties.

    Being a Green gives me the power to vote my principles, and that it a power I relish.