(An opinion column from The Boston Globe)
By Derrick Z. Jackson, Globe Columnist
IT IS unlikely that a Nobel laureate, Oscar winner and former vice president of the United States would return to the nuts and bolts of the federal bureaucracy, but it is obvious who Barack Obama or John McCain should make either energy secretary or administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Given the impact each agency has on the other, they could hand both over to Al Gore so the nation has a shot at a coherent energy and environmental policy.
This week, Gore called for an effort akin to President Kennedy's mission to put a man on the moon to make the United States a carbon-free nation by 2018. In his vision, all electricity in the United States would come from renewable sun, wind, and geothermal power.
Gore said that according to scientists, enough sun falls on the earth every 40 minutes to supply 100 percent of the world's energy for a year. He said Midwestern winds could supply the United States with all the electricity it needs. With thinking like that, Gore could be called upon to liberate the scientists in the EPA - not to mention NASA and other agencies who have warned of the oncoming impact of global warming.
The EPA said this week that climate change will probably result in more intense storms, severe droughts, rising water levels and more loss of life. But of course, this is the EPA that serves under President Bush, who for eight years has been waiting for the "sound science" to tell him when it is time to act on global warming, and pooh-poohing the EPA into impotency. The EPA's report came a week after it declined to regulate the greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, a power the Supreme Court says it has under the Clean Air Act.
The EPA's inaction was no doubt meant to please the president. In yet another act of making the outrageous ordinary, Susan Dudley, the White House's administrator for information and regulatory affairs, wrote the EPA to say "there is strong disagreement with many of the legal, analytical, economic, science and policy interpretations." She wrote that the Clean Air Act "is a deeply flawed and unsuitable vehicle for reducing greenhouse gas emissions."
Dudley wrote that greenhouse gas regulation by the EPA "will not only harm the US economy, but will fail to provide an effective response to the global challenge of climate change. As the president observed in April: Decisions with such far-reaching impact should not be left to unelected regulators and judges."
Take that, scientists and Supreme Court.
Giving the EPA and Energy a new mission has to be one of the top priorities for the next president. The United States ranks only 39th on the world Environmental Performance Index compiled by researchers at Yale and Columbia. The United States ranks behind not only almost all of the developed world, but behind Chile, Ecuador, Slovenia, Hungary, Panama, Brazil, and the Dominican Republic.
Reacting to Gore's speech, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama said renewable sources of energy "are the investments I will make as president." Virtual Republican presidential nominee John McCain said, "If the vice president says it's doable, I believe it's doable."
It will be interesting to see how doable the next president will make it. Obama will surely get overwhelming support from environmentalists, but the Obama campaign was mum this week on a USA Today story about Obama's support of the coal industry as Illinois senator. McCain says he will reduce greenhouse gases, but he has joined the politically expedient call for offshore oil drilling. The United States is already so neglectful in marine protection that out of a possible score of 100 the Yale EPI gives us only a 38.
Gore said, "I see my role as enlarging the political space in which Senator Obama or Senator McCain can confront the issue as president next year." The first step Obama or McCain could take to make sure the political space is safe for science is to see what Gore thinks about running the Department of Energy, or the EPA, or both.
Derrick Z. Jackson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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