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02/04/2010 05:49 PM     print story email story         Page: 1  | 2  | 3  

A Welcome Change: Obama’s 1st Year Environmental Record

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When it comes to the environment, many view the Obama Administration's record as related to two areas: energy and climate legislation; and the clean energy and efficiency provisions of the Recovery Act.

Beyond the very impressive funds disbursed by the Department of Energy (DOE), we hear little about what's happening in the many government agencies that also address the multitude of environmental issues our nation faces.

This article summarizes a white paper produced by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) that outlines the remarkable number of actions Obama and his administration have taken during their first year. They have done more to protect the environment this year than in the past decade under the Bush Administration, when the environment took a back seat to every single corporate interest. While much work remains, the level of protection has been raised in many areas and much of the damage from the previous administration has been reversed.

Just today (end of January), President Obama signed an executive order requiring the federal government to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 28% by 2020. The federal government is the nation's single largest energy consumer and GHG emitter and spends $25 billion a year on energy costs.

The long list of accomplishments includes: 

- a crucial about-face in our attitude toward the environment - basing decisions on science rather than corporate interests, and thus allowing the EPA to do its job in regulating greenhouse gases.

- putting us on a path to a green economy through breathtaking funding for efficiency and clean energy initiatives through the Recovery Act

- calling on Congress to pass far-reaching climate and energy legislation

- understanding and acknowledging the urgency of the threat of climate change

- reestablishing the U.S. as a leader on addressing climate change with the global community

The shift in the style of governing is as notable as the specific policy changes. Obama appointed DOE Secretary Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize winner who is committed to efficiency and clean energy;  Lisa Jackson as Head of EPA, who is reviewing and reversing many Bush administration positions that lacked legal or scientific basis; Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, who, for the first time, is steering transportation policy toward mass transit and smart growth; and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who is moving away from extractive policies to renewable energy and a focus on landscape scale conservation.  Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is giving more attention to organic agriculture and Jane Lubchenco, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is using her substantial scientific expertise to protect the world's oceans.

Facilitating the Transition to a Clean Energy Economy

- About 14% of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 contains funding for cleantech research and initiatives, totaling about $100 billion. It allocates long overdue funding for cleantech R&D including battery research and commercialization and clean energy technology hubs, high speed rail, energy retrofits and weatherization, green job training, and tax credits/ grants for renewable energy projects.

- Federal lighting standards for tube-shaped fluorescent bulbs - the single larg­est energy savings appliance standard ever enacted by the DOE. 

- Reversed decades of inaction on fuel economy/greenhouse gas emissions standards for cars and trucks. In addition to raising vehicle standards to 35 mpg, the EPA granted California its long awaited waiver, allowing it to implement Clean Car standards ("Pavley" standards).

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