This column originally appeared in The Morning Consult on August 20, 2015.
It’s always interesting to watch politicians try to reconcile positions that make soundbites but completely contradict the policies they actually support.
President Obama is one politician guilty of this practice. Elected in large part due to working- and middle-class frustration following the 2008 economic collapse, he constantly harped on narrowing the gap between the rich and poor. Yet seven years later, he seems more concerned with preserving his legacy, putting overreaching action on climate change ahead of Americans’ top priorities and further widening the very gap he promised to shrink.
Let’s take a look at this in action.
The rhetoric: In recent remarks announcing his carbon reduction plan, President Obama said the plan was necessary because “if we want to protect our economy and our security and our children’s health, we’re going to have to do more.”
The reality: President Obama’s plan will result in painful costs for those who can afford it least. It disproportionately affects low-income and minority communities and will significantly burden nearly half of America’s households that on average are bringing home less than $25,000 annually. These families already struggle with rising energy costs; 24 percent of low-income households went without food for at least one day and 37 percent went without medical or dental care in order to pay for energy.
It’s easy to think about the working poor in the abstract, it’s another thing altogether when one must come face-to-face with people and communities, like those in the Navajo Nation, who are already suffering and will only be further hurt by the president’s ill-conceived plan. The Navajo Nation community already scheduled partial shutdowns of its two coal-fired power plants, but the president’s plan is lofty and unrealistic. The final rule calls for a 38 percent reduction, compared to the 6 percent called for in the draft rule. These stringent and unreasonable regulations will almost certainly raise energy prices on the reservation and result in devastating job losses. According to a statement by Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye, “These jobs are extremely difficult to obtain on the nation and are almost irreplaceable. Any negative impacts on the power plants and mines will have a severe and direct effect on the tribal economy.”