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Presidential Endorsement: On ocean conservation issues, the choice is clear. Obama 2012

U.S. flag on the wreck of the Speigel Grove. Photo by Scott Hughes, via Wikimedia Commons

On Tuesday, after what seems like an eternity of campaigning, millions of Americans will head to the polls to vote for our next President. Voters will consider numerous important issues, such as the economy, national security, and the endorsement of Lindsay Lohan. Recent polling indicates that Americans are split, and the election is expected to be very close. On an issue near and dear to my heart, the conservation of the ocean and marine life, one candidate is by far the best choice. I endorse President Barack Obama for re-election.

After promising to “restore science to its rightful place” in his 2009 inauguration speech, there are indeed many successes in conservation and science that President Obama can boast of. He has invested unprecedented amounts of Federal money in alternative energy sources, which, despite the bankruptcy of a few companies, will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change and ocean acidification- as will increased fuel efficiency standards. Early action resulted in conservation of wilderness rivers and trails, and Federal Everglades restoration funding has increased. Restrictions on stem cell research were greatly reduced, and mercury pollution was restricted by the EPA. Race to the top programs have improved science and math education in several states.

On ocean issues, the Obama administration has  been a leader domestically and internationally. For the first time, the United States has a National Ocean Policy, which aims to reduce conflicts between different ocean stakeholders. President Obama signed both the Shark Conservation Act and the Billfish Conservation Act, which, despite being imperfect, are strong legal tools to protect charismatic and ecologically important top predators- and numerous other successes in improving the management of U.S. shark fisheries are detailed here. The Obama administration has aggressively pursued fisheries conservation internationally, at CITES, regional fisheries management organization meetings, and the Convention on Migratory Species.

Despite noteworthy successes, President Obama’s record on science, conservation and the oceans is far from perfect. Shortly after becoming President, he took action to stop some of President Bush’s last-minute disastrous environmental policy changes, but some were curiously allowed to remain.  Although the stimulus provided funding to numerous green energy projects, more than half of the total funding cut from the original proposed stimulus to make it more politically palatable came from scientific investments.  His administration permitted a large swath of National Forest in Alaska to be clear-cut, and allowed the controversial practice of mountaintop removal mining to continue. Campaign promises to fund Great Lakes conservation projects and  to help fish and wildlife agencies to protect local species from climate change have gone nowhere. Over 200 species were denied Endangered Species Act protections. The EPA’s Superfund cleanup budget was cut. The infamous Keystone XL pipeline, widely opposed by environmentalists, is expected to be approved shortly after the election. No cap and trade bill, or any other comprehensive solution to climate change, has been passed, and climate change wasn’t even discussed in a recent State of the Union address. The much-touted Copenhagen climate summit ended in failure, and he didn’t even attend Rio + 20.  No new marine protected areas have been established, or even proposed. Despite the Gulf of Mexico oil spill (which wasn’t handled very well), the President has pushed for even more offshore oil drilling, and fracking continues unopposed and barely regulated. To a certain extent, these failures can be blamed on an uncooperative Congress. However, President Obama’s style of leadership has been criticized as technocratic by leaders of both parties who wish he would spend more time negotiating and “schmoozing” with Congress.

With such a mixed record on the issues most important to me, consideration of President Obama’s opponent, governor Mitt Romney, seems prudent. A thorough examination reveals that his environmental policies would be disastrous. Governor Romney has criticized the Environmental Protection Agency, opposes the Kyoto protocols, supports massive reductions in the environmental protections regulating oil and coal extraction, and supports oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. On marine issues, his positions are equally troubling. Governor Romney opposes marine protected areas, and, despite originating a similar policy during his term of office in Massachusetts, does not support the National Ocean Policy. In grading both candidates’ responses to Science Debate questions, Scientific American noted that “Romney’s answers on climate change, ocean health and freshwater, in particular, revealed an unfamiliarity with the evidence that shows how urgent these issues have become.” Also, in his nomination acceptance speech, Governor Romney specifically noted that he isn’t in the race to “heal the planet or slow the rise of the oceans“.

It is also important to consider that Governor Romney’s Republican party is expected to maintain control of the House of Representatives, and may regain control of the Senate. Statements by Republican legislators and party officials are troubling, including opposing endangered species protections because they’re “against the Bible“, criticizing evolution as a “lie from the pit of hell”,  suggesting that wind farms will warm the Earth by altering wind patterns, and stating the climate change is “the greatest hoax” and isn’t a concern because it isn’t in the Bible. Having a President in the White House who will oppose the extreme anti-science coming from these legislators is critical.

Due to his many successes advancing the goals of ocean science and conservation, and due to the spectacularly flawed understanding of the importance of these issues by his opponent, Barack Obama has earned my endorsement for re-election as President of the United States.


Author’s note- While experience has taught me that few of our regular readers are likely to be Romney voters, I always welcome constructive discussion. Did I forget to give President Obama credit for any major marine conservation successes? Are my criticisms of him, and of Governor Romney, justified?