By Ben Geman - 04/18/12 01:13 PM EDT
The Sierra Club and LCV have the environmental movement's largest political campaign operations.
The joint endorsement follows three years that have been something of a mixed bag for a green movement that backed Obama’s 2008 victory and greeted it with huge expectations.
Environmentalists have applauded a suite of administration policies, such as much tougher auto mileage rules that will help curb oil use, major EPA regulations to cut smog-forming and toxic emissions from power plants, and expanded federal support for green energy projects through the 2009 stimulus law.
But the White House has also made some decisions that green groups say are bad for the environment.
The White House, overriding EPA, last year scuttled tougher ozone standards, Obama’s Interior Department is moving ever closer to allowing Royal Dutch Shell to drill for oil in fragile Arctic waters off Alaska’s coast, and the administration supports expanded natural-gas development enabled through hydraulic fracturing (although it’s seeking to boost safeguards, too).
The White House has punted a decision on whether to approve construction of the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline until next year at the earliest. That followed a major campaign against the pipeline led by the green movement, one in which some senior environmental group officials warned that approval would have stymied activists’ excitement to work on Obama’s behalf.
But Obama could also be environmentalists’ last line of defense if Republicans claim control of the Senate in November.
House Republicans, over the last year, have approved measure after measure to delay or nullify environmental regulations, such as greenhouse gas standards, air toxics rules for power plants, increased oversight of so-called mountaintop-removal coal mining and many others.
Mitt Romney, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, says Obama has placed too many restrictions on energy development.
Romney’s energy and environmental platform calls for stripping EPA’s power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and expanding oil-and-gas leasing to include areas that are currently off-limits, including the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, among other steps that green groups oppose.
“Elections are about choices — and for those who care about building a clean energy economy and confronting the climate crisis, the choice is clear: President Obama is an environmental champion and Mitt Romney [a] climate denier,” said Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), in a statement.
“While President Obama has fought to put Americans back in control of our energy future, Mitt Romney and his Big Oil buddies would take us back to the failed dirty energy policies of the past.”
Karpinski told reporters Wednesday that LCV members are very enthusiastic about reelecting Obama. He said that a poll of LCV members last month showed that 91 percent supported endorsing the president.
But one environmentalist who has been critical of Obama and is not associated with the four endorsing groups criticized the early blessing of the president's reelection, arguing it takes away greens' leverage.
“With environmentalists in the bag, it's hard to see what will restrain President Obama from even more wholeheartedly pursuing his continued effort to prove to oil, coal and gas companies that he'll drill, mine and frack as much as any Republican,” said Glenn Hurowitz, a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy.
This marks the earliest that the Sierra Club, Environment America and Clean Water Action have ever endorsed in a presidential election cycle, officials with the groups said.
Hurowitz argues that groups should wait longer before endorsing Obama.
“It's one thing to make a sober comparison of Obama's record against Romney's in August and endorse the stronger candidate, but it's quite another to tie our hands behind our backs while Obama twists himself in knots in a vain effort to appease polluters,” he said.
The groups are planning a mix of advertising and on-the-ground work on Obama’s behalf, but declined Wednesday to say how much they hope to spend.
Despite some green-movement differences with Obama, the four groups praised his first term Wednesday.
“When we look at the record, we see that in just three-plus years President Obama has accomplished more for the environment and our families’ health than at any point since the benchmark laws to protect our air and water were passed more than 40 years ago,” said Margie Alt, executive director of Environment America.
This post was updated at 9:37 a.m.