Streetwise Professor

April 27, 2011

No (Environmental) Justice, No Peace?

Filed under: Politics,Regulation — The Professor @ 11:20 am

The  EPA has a made a big deal of “environmental justice”:

Environmental Justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. EPA has this goal for all communities and persons across this Nation. It will be achieved when everyone enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work.

The environmental justice movement is predicated on the belief that there is widespread “environmental racism” whereby minorities and the poor are victimized by the deliberate placement of polluting facilities.  Here are a couple of definitions:

Environmental racism is an internationally recognized sociological term referring to the enactment of any policy or regulation that negatively affects the living conditions of low-income or minority communities at a rate disproportionate from affluent communities.[1]

The phenomenon can be either intentional or unintentional, and the term is often used to describe specific events in which minority communities are targeted for the siting of polluting industries and factories

. . . .

Environmental racism is the disproportionate impact of environmental hazards on people of color.

Environmental justice/environmental racism are staples of the progressive left, of which Obama is an exemplar. Indeed, he has portrayed himself as a battler against environmental racism while he was a community organizer.

Now consider a couple of recent news items.  Obama has praised Brazil for drilling for oil offshore.  The Obama administration is providing $3 billion in loan guarantees for a Columbian oil refinery.  Just yesterday, Obama pleaded with foreign oil producers to increase output:

Amid a surge in the cost of gasoline, President Barack Obama said Tuesday he is calling on major oil producers such as Saudi Arabia to increase their oil supplies and lower prices, warning starkly that lack of relief would harm the global economy.

“We are in a lot of conversations with the major oil producers like Saudi Arabia to let them know that it’s not going to be good for them if our economy is hobbled because of high oil prices,” Obama said in an interview with a Detroit television station.

Now, at the same time that Obama is praising, subsidizing, and pleading for increased energy output abroad, he is doing everything to stop energy production here–on environmental grounds.  EPA rules are forcing a shutdown of Shell’s plans to drill offshore in the Arctic. The administration is still slow-walking drilling approvals in the Gulf of Mexico–and as a result, rigs are moving from the Gulf to Brazil.  The EPA has gone to the mattresses over permitting refineries in Texas.

I’m genuinely curious.  Just how do Obama, and Obama’s EPA, square their environmental justice/environmental racism rhetoric with their simultaneous war on energy production here in the US and support of energy production overseas?  Why is the administration promoting “policies [and] regulations that negatively affect the living conditions of low-income [countries] at a rate disproportionate from affluent [countries, notably the US”?  How are their policies not environmentally racist–by their own definitions?  It is a puzzle.

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  1. My “favorite” example of environmental racism on the left’s part is going in to Africa and pressuring them to not develop their own land, thus leaving them in perpetual poverty. You can’t get out of poverty if half your country is cordoned off for eco-tourism so that rich people can look at elephants and giraffes. Who is being racist here? (honestly, I don’t even think racism is a relevant term, power over the weak might be better)

    And no, I’m not saying to let them wipe everything out, so don’t bother with it.

    Comment by Howard Roark — April 27, 2011 @ 3:59 pm

  2. As to your your questions re the the contradiction between Obama’s energy policies at home v. energy policies abroad; the answer is simple. Obama is President of the US, not President of the world. His policies are intended to prevent environmental racsism against American citizens while still addressing US energy needs by encouraging increased world production. It’s always interesting to see right wingers suddenly develop concern for the poor whenever those poor are not Americans and the policy that would allegedly help them comes at the expense of the American working class; such as in this case and “free trade”.

    As to the administration’s alleged “war on energy production” in the US, the fact remains that if environmental restrictions on US production were significantly weakened it would still have very little effect on the marginal supply and price of oil because the US simply doesn’t have sufficient oil resreves.

    Comment by chris murphy — April 29, 2011 @ 8:42 am

  3. @Chris–Wow, thanks for letting me know that Obama is a Buchananite America Firster. Silly me, I always thought that he was a transnational progressive who believed that the US was reviled around the world for its arrogance and its exploitation of the poor and The Other. One who believes that global climate change is such a pressing issue that cap and trade is necessary both here and abroad. Hence my puzzlement at his encouragement of activities abroad that he considers too polluting and environmentally offensive to undertake here. If energy production is a bad here, why isn’t it a bad in Brazil or Columbia?

    Re “free trade”–uhm, the scare quotes don’t scare me. And don’t bother attributing views about the poor to me based on God knows what.

    Do you dispute any of the specific instances re environmental restrictions on energy production here in the US? Care to discuss them on the merits?

    And your last point is particularly moronic. If there is little oil to be found in the US, there would be little exploration and production, and hence little environmental impact. The relevant question is whether the benefits of exploiting those opportunities to expand output in the US exceed the costs, including the environmental costs–taking into account the environmental impact outside the US that results from restrictions on output in the US and also taking into account the effect of subsidizing (through credit guarantees) activities that are considered so polluting as to be worth restricting or eliminating here in the US.

    I don’t believe that reducing restrictions on energy production and exploration will necessarily lead to dramatic increases in output and reductions in prices–although the experience with shale gas should make you very circumspect about making such bold statements about insufficient reserves. That’s exactly what people said about natural gas, oh years and years ago–like in 2006-2007. That world has turned upside down as the result of technological innovation. Look at what’s happening in North Dakota with the Bakken discoveries.

    I look askance at environmental restrictions that do not appear justified on a cost-benefit basis. And I am still waiting for a coherent justification of why activities that are so damaging as to be unacceptable here are not just acceptable elsewhere, but worthy of being subsidized with American money. You certainly don’t offer one.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — April 29, 2011 @ 7:52 pm

  4. Is this even a genuine question? You are puzzled that the ideology of domestic US politics does not correspond with American foreign policy? This is a simple two level game. No domestic ratification really needed for foreign-affairs choices, ergo no constraint of domestic ideals or ideology on foreign policy. Democrat or Republican, doesn’t matter – same as it ever was.

    Comment by bork — April 29, 2011 @ 10:47 pm

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