As President Obama’s final year in office comes to a close, the time has come to reflect upon his legacy and his impact on our country. Perhaps more than other areas, Obama’s environmental record is a mixed bag of laudable achievements and startling mismanagement. Though his actions on climate change will rightfully be praised in the future, some of the more glaring cases of the EPA’s inattentive management in the last several years will be blemishes on his record.
From Flint to the West Lake Landfill in St. Louis, the EPA has proven itself to be maddeningly unresponsive. Despite knowing about the problem with Flint’s water nearly a year before intense press coverage, the EPA did nothing to alert the public or force the issue. Instead, the EPA sought to shift the blame entirely to state officials. In regards to Flint, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy simply understated, “clearly the outcome was not what anyone would have wanted.”Additionally, an EPA internal report released a week ago about the West Lake Landfill said that officials knew that removing the toxic waste from the landfill was both possible and relatively inexpensive — and still they chose to do nothing.
All of which leads one to wonder who exactly the EPA works for: the communities who need people in power to responsibly listen and respond to them or glib politicians and waste service companies out for their own interests? Administrator McCarthy needs to prioritize families over giving corporations a break. And each of her deputies must think first of public health and the environment rather than their own personal job prospects.
Though the EPA is an independent agency, Obama is more than able to influence its agenda and responsiveness. In the last year of his presidency, Obama is no longer chained to his own election chances and has more room to simply do the right thing regardless of the political consequences.
So I pose the following to President Obama: what do you want your environmental legacy to be? Allowing corporations to shamefully put the health of families at risk and letting politicians ignore pressing problems in service of their personal ambition? Or standing up for everyday Americans against such powerful corporations and non-responsive public servants? The fate of many communities depends on his choice.
By Gregory Kolen II. Environmental justice is an issue that affects everyone, but those who bear the brunt of it are often the most vulnerable