“The utility sector, which we consider a part of the manufacturing sector, has been hit extremely hard,” said Ross Eisenberg, vice president of energy and resources at the National Association of Manufacturers.
Utilities, he said, are shuttering older plants and holding off expanding existing ones out of fear that the EPA will deny them permits.
Last month, urged on by several business and energy groups, the GOP-controlled House passed the Stop the War on Coal Act, which would reverse several Obama regulations and proposals. It would bar the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases, jettison the stricter fuel standards and give states primary authority over the storage and disposal of coal-combustion waste. But that bill has little chance in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
Because the administration, faced by partisan polarization, has moved ahead on its own, opportunities for compromise have been lost, some say. Eisenberg notes that during former president Bill Clinton’s second term, the two parties negotiated passage of such significant environmental laws as the 1996 Safe Drinking Water Act.
“The big difference is you had a Congress and an administration a little bit willing to work together on the issues,” he said.
Obama has disappointed environmentalists in some cases.
In September 2011, he decided to pull back an EPA proposal to limit ozone emissions linked to smog, on the grounds that it would hurt the economy and the government would revisit the issue in 2013 anyway. The business community praised the move, while environmentalists said it was irresponsible.
The administration also has been criticized by some environmentalists for not moving to create new wilderness areas, in which development and energy extraction would be barred. Only Congress can designate wilderness but the president can bestow similar protections by creating national monuments through the 1906 Antiquities Act.
“It’s not something they’re making a priority,” said Heidi McIntosh, associate director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. She said administration officials have been unwilling to overrule the objections of state and local officials on several key land-use issues.
Barring a last-minute development, the current Congress will be the first since 1966 to fail to designate a single wilderness area. Obama has recently declared a few national monuments based on their historic or cultural significance, including Colorado’s Chimney Rock, and has forged private-public partnerships to preserve working landscapes in states such as Florida and Kansas.
Obama has spent only a brief amount of time visiting national parks, and the National Park Service budget has declined 6 percent in the past two years.
More goals if reelected
Obama friends and foes agree on one thing: The president will probably pursue an even more aggressive environmental agenda if reelected.
House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) said in a statement he would expect Obama to push for more national monument designations in a second term. “From nearly day one,” he said, “the Obama Administration has attempted to impose policies that would block public access to public lands and cause significant economic harm and job loss.”
When it comes to putting more public land off limits to development, he added, “Such decisions should not be made by unilateral orders from the president” using a 106-year old law.
Environmental leaders expect Obama to try to take tougher action on limiting greenhouse-gas emissions from existing power plants if reelected.
Obama hinted as much during a speech to a crowd of Colorado State University students in August.
“We’re on track to emit fewer greenhouse gases this year than we have in nearly 20 years,” he said. “You can keep those trends going. That all happened because of you.”