Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Earthday founder reflects on environmental activism in Obama’s second term

Courtesy of The Bullitt Foundation

Though they say it’s better than any Republican alternative, many activists have been disappointed in the environmental policies of the Obama administration.

Now that the election’s over, we caught up with one of the state’s most prominent environmental thinkers to get his take on what’s in store for the next four years.

Denis Hayes is best known as National Coordinator of the first Earth Day, a secular holiday that has become an international celebration. Today, he’s one of theregion's most sought-after speakers on environmental policy.

He says he’s been disappointed with the President’s approach to big energy interests such as coal mining and oil companies. But Hayes says there’s still lots to praise about those first four years – starting with a dramaticincrease in the fuel efficiency standards for automobiles.

“We should have had that accomplished probably 20 years ago, but we didn’t get it through Carter, we didn’t get it from Clinton and we didn’t expect to get it from George W. Bush. And we got it from Obama," Hayes says. "And in fact I’d say Lisa Jackson was one of the two best EPA administrators ever - she and Bill Ruckleshouse.”

In particular, Hayes says Jackson’s new regulations on power plants are shutting down a lot of outdated, dirty coal-power. And Hayes says he’s pleased the President hasn’t given a green light to the Keystone Pipeline or Alaska’s Pebble Mine.

But he says protecting the environment doesn’t rank as high for Obama as getting health care in place or people back to work. Likewise, slowing climate change wasn’t a priority in Obama’s first term. Obama has vowed to work harder on that issue now. But Hayes says the environmental movement will have to keep the pressure on.

“I think we are going to win or lose depending on how we mobilize people to force whoever is the president to do what needs to be done," Hayes says."Whether you convince him or not, we’ve got to organize people and make him do it.”

Hayes says a key test for the movement is how it responds to the proposed new coal export terminals in Washington and Oregon. Hearings continue next month. And how the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers preside over that process will be a clear reflection of the Obama administration’s stance on energy and the environment.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to