A former Toledo city councilman emerged Tuesday as a leading spokesman for one of America’s largest environmental groups while President Obama announced his landmark initiative for one of the world’s most contentious issues, climate change.
Frank Szollosi, a Democrat who served two terms on the city council and was at one time a press secretary for U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), is now the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes regional outreach coordinator. In that position, he promotes the environmental group’s conclusions about how a warming planet can hurt the economy and ecology of the Great Lakes, which hold 20 percent of Earth’s fresh surface water.
“I want to leave my hometown and my world better off for my kids,” Mr. Szollosi, who holds a master’s degree in environmental policy from the University of Michigan, said. “Council was one avenue for that, but I’m fortunate to be in another line of work that I see as public service.”
Mr. Obama unveiled a multi-tiered approach to addressing climate change, viewed by some supporters as the most comprehensive undertaken by a sitting president.
But it’s also one which has already stirred Mr. Obama’s adversaries, despite his call for bipartisan cooperation and despite new polling by the Georgetown Climate Center, part of Georgetown Law, which shows 87 percent of Americans support some action on the issue. Seventy-eight percent are Republicans and 94 percent are Democrats.
One conservative group, Heritage for Action, accused the president of “a willingness to bypass Congress to advance his big-government agenda” and of using his executive powers for “pushing regulations that will destroy hundreds of thousands of jobs.”
Another, Americans for Prosperity, stated the administration's proposed rules "are essentially an end-run around Congress that will cripple the coal industry, hurt blue-collar workers, and impact small communities across the country."
The Chicago-based Heartland Institute, which describes itself as a free-market think tank, has for years has disputed findings by governmental scientists on climate change. It issued statements critical of Mr. Obama by eight of its leaders and others affiliated with the group.
But while the plan was scorned by National Association of Manufacturers, which represents heavy industry, the Nuclear Energy Institute -- which represents FirstEnergy Corp.'s Davis-Besse and DTE Energy's Fermi 2 nuclear plants along Lake Erie -- said it looks forward to using nuclear power to reduce greenhouse gases and "working with the administration to help achieve these extremely important goals."
Mr. Obama said his administration's stronger commitment to lowering greenhouse gases will create more jobs through innovation. He said requirements for more fuel-efficient vehicles have helped automakers such as General Motors with auto sales.
Like many scientists and other environmental groups, the National Wildlife Federation believes a gradually warmer climate will drive up food costs by making it more difficult to grow crops, including in the agriculturally rich Great Lakes region.
Warmer water is better habitat for invasive species and better conditions for algae to proliferate. That can drive away walleye, yellow perch, and other native fish and hurt the fishing and boating industries, Mr. Szollosi said.
Warming temperatures can lead to more air pollution, which can result in more asthma, he said.
Water levels will drop if evaporation outpaces additional rain from more intense and frequent storms, as some scientists predict. That will hurt the Great Lakes region’s overall economy, especially that of the Port of Toledo - the shallowest part of the lakes - if ships are forced to carry less cargo, Mr. Szollosi said.
Citing regulatory powers upheld by the Supreme Court, Mr. Obama directed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to impose tighter rules on emissions of coal-fired power plants, the largest source of the most prevalent greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide.
He announced plans to have 20 percent of electricity for government facilities coming from renewable energy sources by 2020, as well as a number of plans for mitigating many inevitable climate-related effects that are too late to attempt to reverse, such as a requirement for more flood-control measures in federally funded construction projects.
Mr. Obama said his support for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline through the nation’s heartland -- a project scorned by environmentalists -- is dependent upon the nation moving ahead with renewables, not remaining so dependent on fossil fuels.
“I don’t have much patience for anyone who denies [climate change] is real,” Mr. Obama said. “We have no time for the Flat Earth Society.”
His announcement was greeted by dozens of statements from industry and trade groups, environmentalists, and academics -- some who claimed Mr. Obama was going too far, some who claimed he wasn’t going far enough, and some still angry he had gone silent since Republicans won control of the U.S. House of Representatives after the 2010 election.
The 2012 election was the first one since NASA scientist James Hansen first testified to Congress in 1988 about climate change that the issue was not discussed during presidential debates, even after a series of record-hot years.
Federal climate records show all but two of the top 14 years for warmth - 1997 and 1998 - have occurred since 2000. This year is on pace to be the eighth hottest.