Policy: Environment & Energy

Overreach prevents Obama from solving drought problems

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Opinion,Mona Charen,Columnists,Barack Obama,California,Climate Change,Energy and Environment,Drought

There are many reasons President Obama's presidency has proven so ineffectual even by its own standards -- boosting economic growth, improving health care, preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction, enhancing America's world reputation. One reason is that Obama is the most ideologically rigid president in American history. He believes in all the wrong ideas, and holds to them with mulish tenacity.

But there's a second reason that was on vivid display the past few days -- overweening arrogance. This president has no patience with attempting to solve the actual problems that afflict the people he was elected to serve. That's small beer. A great, world historical figure like himself cannot be tending to trivial matters, like whether healthcare.gov will actually work, or whether there might be something the federal government can do to alleviate the effects of drought in California. Valerie Jarrett, the close aide who has been intimate with both Obamas for many years and is considered by many to be the most influential adviser in the White House, once described him as "somebody with such extraordinary talents that had to be really taxed in order for him to be happy ... He's been bored to death his whole life. He's just too talented to do what ordinary people do." Or what ordinary politicians do, apparently.

Consider the California drought. It has been a very dry year for the state of California. So severe have drought conditions become that farmers in the Central Valley, which provides one-third of the nation's fruits and vegetables, have cut back their planting by 25 percent. An estimated 600,000 acres of farmland will lie fallow this year for lack of water.

Water has always been a relatively scarce resource in California, and previous droughts have created hardship. This may well be the most rainless winter in more than 100 years. But the farmers and ranchers of California have long relied on irrigation, not just rain, for their crops, and as National Review's Charles C.W. Cooke explains, the pumps that supply the Central Valley have been dramatically curtailed for the sake of a small fish called the delta smelt. The Natural Resources Defense Council won a case against the California water system, arguing that the pumps that extract water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and send it south were "sucking in and shredding an unacceptable number of smelt." Since the Endangered Species Act covers the smelt, the pumps had to be dialed down.

Other than performing a rain dance, there is little politicians can do right now to coax water from the skies. But they can do something about hundreds of billions of gallons of water that are not pumping for the sake of a 3-inch fish that may not even be endangered.

The Endangered Species Act permits a special committee to review cases in which protection of species might be outweighed by other considerations. The president could call for the committee to convene. He could instruct the director of the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider the evidence (there were allegations of zealotry on the part of the bureaucrats). Or he could endorse legislation proposed by George Radanovich, R-Calif., that would fund a fish hatchery to replace any smelt killed by the pumps.

Instead, the president traveled to Fresno, Calif., in order to sermonize about climate change. When ordinary folks point to, say, the coldest winter in decades and wonder about warming, they are silenced with a great chorus of "weather is not climate" from the usual keepers of conventional wisdom. It doesn't often work the other way. The president lectured: "We have to be clear: A changing climate means that weather-related disasters like droughts, wildfires, storms, floods are potentially going to be costlier and they're going to be harsher ... scientific evidence shows that a changing climate is going to make them more intense."

This bit of opportunism was too much for Justin Gillis of The New York Times (yes, The New York Times). "While a trend of increasing drought that may be linked to global warming has been documented in some regions," he wrote, " ... there is no scientific consensus yet that it is a worldwide phenomenon. Nor is there definitive evidence that it is causing California's problems." In fact, Gillis wrote, many believe that global warming should make California wetter, not drier.

Millions of California's poorest will be out of work as farms lie fallow. Poverty will increase. Farmers will tap wells that may run dry, with consequences for the long-term viability of the world's most fecund farmland. Prices of fruits and vegetables (so encouraged by Michelle Obama) will rise.

These are the small problems of small people. The "too talented" president is made for bigger things.

MONA CHAREN, a Washington Examiner columnist, is nationally syndicated by Creators Syndicate.

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