Obama’s “Feel Good” Veto

February 25th, 2015

President Obama’s veto of legislation advancing implementation of the Keystone XL Pipeline project most assuredly guarantees him a few nice sized checks into the coffers of his future presidential library from billionaire extremists in the environmental movement.

What it doesn’t do is all the things he claims his veto represents.  For starters, it certainly doesn’t assure protection of the environment.  In fact, it puts the environment in a bit more risk, at least in places where rail lines will continue carrying crude oil through neighborhoods across the country.

With the promise of new jobs (and union jobs at that), even some Democrats crossed over and supported the legislation.  While it won’t help them with the environmentalist vote, it may gain them favor with union members.  As I noted in a blog a few months ago, one potential fault line in the Democrat Party runs between environmental and union interests.  Frequently, the two are very much at odds.

I practiced environmental law for many years so I’m quite familiar with the environmental issue. While I believe that passionately embracing a cause can be good for one’s soul, it’s often very hard on everyone else’s soul when those deepest passionate beliefs collide with a dose of reality.

For example, I recall back in the 1990’s being chastised a few times when I might errantly and quite accidently toss a plastic bottle in a trash can.  Throwing a child or a puppy in there, while certainly unpopular, at least wouldn’t assure the cold stares and sometimes outright hostility I’d experience.  While I certainly didn’t like the treatment, underneath it all, I was slightly amused because as I learned through my profession at the time, much that was being carefully sorted and discarded was ending up in landfills anyway since it was proving too expensive to actually recycle.  Times have changed and now our communal environmental efforts are no longer quite so futile, but given the facts at the time, was all that unkindness towards one’s fellow man over missing the recycling bin really necessary?

Just this week, my husband and I made an offer on a brand new house in Austin.  It wasn’t just any offer.  It was an offer to pay the full asking price for a house with just a few minor changes.  One of those changes was to add body sprays in the master bathroom shower.  After reading the builder’s online profile, I wondered, however, as I signed the contract if he’d accept the change.  His website describes him as a “green” builder who only uses plumbing fixtures guaranteed to use a minimum amount of water. Supposedly, the entire home is built with recycled material and the house is placed in such a way as to keep its environmental impact on the property at a minimum. Clearly, this guy is the real deal. My suspicion was confirmed when he rejected the offer.  According to our broker, he’s going to finish the house in the completely environmentally friendly way he sees fit.

What’s amusing to me about this scenario is that this house is in the hills of Austin.  There is no bus or rail service there.  I didn’t see anyone riding around the neighborhood in a carriage or on horseback.  Lots of people ride bikes through there but as near as I could tell, they do so strictly for exercise and entertainment. No one I saw was carrying a backpack or briefcase.

This begs the question. Why build an uber environmentally friendly house in a place that requires gallons of gas to get to?  Does that really make sense? Or does it just make the builder and ultimate purchaser feel really good about themselves?

Years ago, I was working a table at my son’s Science Fair with another mother who is a research professor working on environmental air quality issues at the University of Texas.  As each group of children would come up to our table, the first thing we would ask them is, “How can we make the environment better?” Each group included at least one child who would respond “by driving electric cars.”

After a while of this I decided to take a chance and mention the irony of this answer to the other mother.

“Where do these kids think the electricity comes from to power those cars?” I asked her.

She smiled and laughed, “Yeah, let’s not burst their bubble.”

So watching all the protestors marching around Washington this past week fighting to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline legislation from becoming law, I’m reminded of all the others before them who really felt good about themselves as though they were truly saving the planet when they really weren’t doing a thing except making themselves feel good.

My biggest hope is that at least they weren’t also complete hypocrites and that each one of them walked home each evening after the march where they cooked over an open flame and read by candlelight and thus served as real examples to the rest of us of what it takes to truly protect the planet.