"“This is a Fight and We Need a Leader”: Environmental Champion Leon Billings Slams Obama’s Ozone Retreat"
Leon Billings: I have been silent long enough. It is time to comment on this Administration. It is time to unload. I have maintained silence at least in part because of the cacophony of criticism from the far right dominated GOP.
Many people who care deeply about both clean air and job creation have been stunned by President Obama’s cynical decision to do less on ozone pollution than George W. Bush proposed.
One of the country’s long-time environmental champions, Leon Billings, has had enough. He sent around a scathing, must-read “political update” yesterday and gave me permission to repost it.
Billings deserves attention. From 1966 to 1978, he was staff director of the Senate Environmental Pollution Subcommittee, and had primary staff responsibility for writing some of our most important environmental laws, including the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. He was chief of staff to Edmund Muskie when Muskie was Senator and Secretary of State. He served as Executive Director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in the 1982 cycle and served 12 years in the Maryland legislature.
Here’s Billings has to say:
LABOR DAY, 2011
SUBJECT: WHITHER THE WHITE HOUSE
I have been silent long enough. It is time to comment on this Administration. It is time to unload. I have maintained silence at least in part because of the cacophony of criticism from the far right dominated GOP.
I was silent on the deal that extended the Bush tax cuts because I believe Obama felt he had to make a deal to extend unemployment benefits and payroll tax cuts for this year.
I was silent the deficit deal this summer because, in this particular game of chicken, the GOP was clearly prepared to endanger the nation’s solvency to capture a political point. And, I believed that the Sword of Damocles deal requiring equal cuts in non-entitlement programs and defense was, at least, a strong message.
I deflected the criticism of labor, African Americans, and the Hispanic community because I thought their posture seemed to ignore the depths of economic distress Obama had inherited.
I was flummoxed when Obama did not yet repeatedly berate the GOP for their effort to defeat and discredit his health care plan by suggesting that it threatened Medicare. He even let Paul Ryan’s “end Medicare as we know it” pass into history with minimum rather than repeated Presidential comment.
But now the President has decided to violate the law and not move forward with the release of new, peer reviewed, scientifically established standards for clean air. These standards, required as a result of a proposal by Richard M. Nixon, are the underpinning of the nation’s clean air effort. Even the Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, written brilliantly by Justice Antonin Scalia, held that these health based air quality standards were to be based on science, not economics.
So what does this President do: he says that economics prevent him from stating a scientifically proven fact that certain exposure to smog is unhealthy and needs to be reduced.
This is the same President who has fulminated against corporate America sitting on huge piles of cash and not putting America back to work. This is the same President who wants to invest huge amounts of public works funds in bridges, highways, and transit. And yet this same President won’t tell corporate America and particularly oil companies, utilities, and refineries that they have to clean up their dirty air.
Thousands of jobs would be created if new air pollution standards would force the investment the detractors of these standards say would be required. Manufacturing and installing the needed pollution control equipment would be public works with a public health purpose.
No one is saying that these rules shouldn’t be implemented. Our President is just saying “don’t spend the money now. Wait until things get better.” Well, Mr. President, things will only get better if new jobs are created. You have run out of ways to stimulate the economy with Federal dollars because the GOP House of Representatives won’t let you spend any more money. You can’t get a new tax policy through to generate new revenue because these same GOP folks just say no.
But then you are given a golden opportunity to have a broad based victory. You could have received accolades from a constituency that will be vital if you are to have activist support next year: the environmentalists. You could have received accolades from organized labor because working people would build and install the pollution control equipment. You would have received the accolades of the public health community because you would have put health above the misplaced perception of politics of whoever told you to withdraw these rules. And you would not have violated the law.
So, lets do a score card here: Satisfied constituents: big polluters. Dissatisfied constituents: people who want manufacturing and construction jobs installing pollution control equipment; pulmonary and public health providers who want healthy air; environmental advocates who want a President who implements the law; and, of course, those Americans who think the President ought to obey the law.
It is clear to almost everyone I know that President Obama and his advisors have determined that we all don’t have any place to go a year from now. They believe that any of the GOP nominees would be completely unacceptable to all the activists who care about progressive public policy. And, as misguided as your policy responses are, they are right. None of us is going to vote for a right wing fanatic and there is only one GOP candidate who doesn’t seem to fit that mold. So Obama’s political advisers think we are stuck.
BUT! And this is a very BIG BUT! We are going to only be as enthusiastic as the GOP nominee causes us to be. We are not going to be in the neighborhoods or at the polling place as we were in 2008 when Obama was seen as “change we could believe in” which meant something very different than George Bush. So, maybe the GOP will nominate someone so offensive that our enthusiasm is generated.
Or, the President can try to reestablish a relationship with those of us who care about the future of our country, who firmly believes in separation of church and state, who believe the national government has an activist role to balance the inequities in our society and who are willing to pay their fare share to that end. BUT HE BETTER GET ON THE STICK AND QUIT PRETENDING TO BE A NON COMBATANT, TAKE OFF HIS RED CROSS ARM BAND AND PICK UP A WEAPON. This is a fight and we need a leader.
– Leon G. Billings was also Chair of the Environment Committee of the National Conference of State Legislatures for the 2001-2002 NCSL conference year. In 1995 he co-founded the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators, a group of state legislators committed to progressive federal and state environmental policies.