Builder in Chief
Republican Presidential Hopefuls Seem Intent on Ignoring the Need for New Infrastructure
What a shift in rhetoric this 2012 campaign has brought. Back in 2008, the presidential hopefuls tackled major environmental issues at every debate. Republicans and Democrats alike proposed green-job and renewable energy programs, then argued about whose was better.

Now, the major candidates–especially the Republicans—have abandoned the environment as a campaign issue. Indeed,, the official website of the presumptive Republican nominee, lampoons President Obama’s environmental programs as being “in thrall to the environmentalist lobby and its dogmas.”

Here’s the funny part. In his haste to disassociate himself from all things environmental, Romney ignores another subject with immense implications for the natural world: Infrastructure. Admittedly, infrastructure lacks the sex appeal of other subjects. A ringing call to build water treatment plants and highway overpasses don’t resonate the hearts of Americans like, say, John F. Kennedy’s daring pledge to put man on the moon.

Even so, there’s something pathetically idea-poor about a president without any creative ideas for infrastructure improvements. Romney wants to be the leader of the free world, but he cannot think of a single thing he wants to build? No snazzy picnic shelters for the national parks? No monorail between the Mormon Tabernacle and the Utah State Capital?

It’s as if the idea of proposing new government spending on anything, even badly needed public works, has become untouchable for Republicans. At a New Hampshire debate last December, a man asked Romney whether he supported infrastructure investments. In response, Romney detailed his work as Massachusetts governor shoring up that state’s bridges.

Romney also favors pipelines like the ill-conceived Keystone XL, which would import tar-sands oil from Canada.

So if you’re a long-haul trucker or petroleum engineer, Romney’s your man. Say what you will about Obama’s first term, but at least he presents a grand vision for rebuilding the nation. Beginning with his 2008 campaign and continuing through this one, he called for an array of infrastructure improvements with clear environmental benefits: a more efficient power grid, high-speed rail corridors, off-shore wind farms, smart grid, and more.

Romney and the other Republicans have called the president’s 2009 stimulus package, which funded many infrastructure projects, a failure because it did not spur an immediate economic recovery.

Yet this shorted-sighted critique, like Romney’s lack of new ideas, suggests that he does not understand the point of infrastructure, much less its essential role in environmental protection. The president is and always must be America’s builder-in-chief. As such, she or he must champion the infrastructure projects that simply cannot wait. You don’t build bridges, rail lines, and power plants solely as economic stimulus. You build them because the country needs them and because they make private investment and growth possible over the long term.

Whose infrastructure will create a better long-term foundation—Romney, with his pipeline and bridges, or Obama with his smart grid and rail improvements?