Everywhere you look we are being told to vote. Starbucks, Krispy Kreme and Ben & Jerry's are all offering free products Tuesday for voters. Celebrities, athletes, politicians and the media have done all they can to encourage voting. Yet, the turnout, even in this historic election, will still not be as high as it should be.
There are probably a million reasons why so many eligible voters refuse to participate in elections, even if they're not rational or reasonable. If there is one excuse, however, that simply cannot be tolerated, it's the idea that the President is a figure head who doesn't actually do anything.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The President, as head of the Executive Branch, oversees all of the federal agencies. This includes the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior, the Food & Drug Administration, the Army Corps of Engineers, etc. The President will appoint the heads of these agencies, set goals for rule-making and will decide the extent to which agency rules are enforced.
We have seen how agency behaviors can impact our environment. First there were the controversies in the EPA that led to Congress asking for EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson's resignation. Then there was the submission of new rules to weaken the Fish & Wildlife Service's authority over the Endangered Species Act. Next, there were complaints by agency scientists that political decisions were disrupting their work. Finally, the Pentagon and federal agencies worked together twice to block toxic clean-up of former military sites and to keep toxic chemicals in our drinking water.
In addition to overseeing federal agencies, the President appoints judges to federal courts, including the Supreme Court. The courts have played pivotal roles in interpreting important environmental laws and the actions of federal agencies. They have rejected the Bush Administration's intervention in state pollution control, they have forced the EPA to investigate the impact of carbon emissions on human health and they have required improved restrictions on lead emissions. The next President may appoint up to 3 new Supreme Court Justices, which will significantly shape the direction of environmental law.
Finally, the President has a large influence over the federal budget and how research dollars will be spent. We are on the cusp of a clean energy revolution in the United States that will create jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. To cross the threshold, we need quick development of new energy technology. Research is done in our nation's universities, labs and inside the military. The next President will have discretion over how money is allocated and which research projects take priority.
There is no doubt that environmental progress, or lack thereof, is tied to the Presidency. We've even seen state and local action thwarted by federal intervention. To believe the President has no influence over the direction of the United States is not only wrong, but it is dangerous.
So tomorrow make sure you get out and vote. We may change our light bulbs and buy smaller cars to be greener, but the progress we make personally could be undermined by a bad President.