Under the Green Hammer
The green lobby is pressing Obama to bypass Congress and impose its agenda by fiat.

President Obama speaks at the Copper Mountain Solar Project, March 21, 2012.



President Obama’s reelection has the climate cult chomping at the bit to get a long wish list of policies put in place, from energy taxes to cap-and-trade to a possible blockade on coal and natural-gas exports. And most of these activists are in no mood to let that messy little obstacle called the democratic process slow the juggernaut.

Some, like the Natural Resources Defense Council, are encouraging the president to bypass Congress and shutter more coal-fired power plants through executive action. A pair of law professors are among the co-authors of a book promoting seven executive orders they hope Obama will use to protect “people and the environment by the stroke of a pen.” A coalition of 70 green groups has written Obama demanding that he make more aggressive use of executive power. And the green-leaning media muppets are chiming in, lending the whole push a troubling air of legitimacy.

People become dangerous when they begin believing that their chosen cause outweighs any other consideration. And when your cause is as arrogantly grandiose as “saving the planet,” you might come to believe that any means are justified, even if you have to dodge Congress and trample the Constitution along the way. That more Americans don’t seem to find this line of thinking alarming is itself alarming.

Thus you have the two law professors mentioned above, Rena Steinzor and Amy Sinden, of the University of Maryland and Temple University respectively, arguing in a recent Baltimore Sun op-ed (“Obama Should Sidestep Congress”) that the supposedly obstructionist tactics of congressional Republicans, combined with the “spanking” they suffered in November, license President Obama to “use every bit of executive power he can marshal, by directing the regulatory agencies of his administration to move with dispatch to regulate and enforce in a number of vital areas.”

That meddlesome mob called Congress can’t be completely ignored, the professors concede. There will be “budgets to pass, an education reauthorization bill to craft, battles aplenty over spending, and much more,” say the two. “But it’s hard to imagine anything of consequence coming from Capitol Hill that isn’t the product of brutal fighting and bitter compromise. By contrast, if [Obama] directs his regulatory agencies to move with dispatch, the president can make huge advances on health, safety and environmental issues, along the way crafting a lasting legacy on these issues that will stand beside many of his first-term accomplishments.”

The two are big Obama fans, obviously. But one can’t help wondering what they would say about the propriety and constitutionality of what they are urging if a conservative Republican were president. I’m guessing, at the risk of putting words into their mouths, that a Republican president who embarked on a concerted effort to ram an agenda through without even consulting Congress would stand accused by the two professors of having undemocratic, perhaps even dictatorial, tendencies.

That “brutal fighting and bitter compromise” are built into the process by design, through the system of checks and balances codified in the Constitution, is immaterial to our law professors. All that matters to them is that Obama scores touchdown after touchdown during his second term, running roughshod over whatever token opposition members of Congress, also duly elected, are able to mount. The constitutionality, the correctness, the wisdom of this approach are not even of passing interest. The ends justify the means.

Abuses of power by the White House used to freak liberals out. Now they cheer them. You thus have a growing cadre of liberal pundits, many of whom cut their teeth decrying “abuses of power” by the Nixon White House, urging the current president to ram, slam, and cram his agenda through. Damn Congress! Damn legitimate voices of dissent! Damn the Constitution too!

There is a strong authoritarian streak running through the environmental movement that should be alarming even to fellow progressives who still believe in working within the rules to put their policies in place. We first saw this on display during President Clinton’s time in office, when much of his green agenda — creation of new national monuments, for instance, which closes designated scenic areas to multiple use, and approval of the so-called roadless rule, which was designed to establish de facto wilderness over roughly a third of our national forests — was put in place via executive actions that sidestepped congressional approval.