Market News

 May 02, 2009
Where there's a Will, There's a Way - The First 100 Days for Obama

 U.S. President Obama’s first 100 Days in office have been nothing short of remarkable. Despite the enormity of the economic challenges facing America, there is a renewed sense of confidence that the man in charge will do whatever is necessary to rebuild the nation’s economy and to re-establish its leadership on environmental matters. 

From the outset, President Obama made it clear that energy and the environment were high on his list of priorities. Even before officially taking over the Oval Office, he assembled a dream team of advisors with solid green credentials to implement his agenda for change.

The team includes former Environmental Protection Agency head Carol Browner as a special White House advisor on climate and energy; former New Jersey Environmental Protection Commissioner Lisa Jackson as EPA administrator; former Los Angeles Deputy Mayor for Energy and Environment Nancy Sutley as chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality; Colorado Senator Ken Salazar as secretary of the interior and Nobel laureate Steven Chu as Energy Secretary.

Within hours of taking office President Obama ordered the EPA to review California’s request for tougher auto-emissions standards and directed the Department of Transportation to set higher fuel-economy standards for cars and light trucks. The mandatory public commentary period on the emissions standards waiver ends soon and an order likely will be issued allowing California and 13 other States to implement tougher rules.

New fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks will start with the 2011 model year, (to 27.3 miles per gallon, an increase of 2 miles per gallon over 2010)m which will save 887 million gallons of fuel and cut carbon dioxide emissions by 8.3 million metric tons per year.

In April the EPA responded to a 2007 Supreme Court ruling to determine whether greenhouse gases pose a danger to public health and welfare. The EPA determined that they do, which initiates the process of regulating those emissions under the Clean Air Act. The agency is building an inventory of greenhouse-gas emissions from some 13,000 major polluters, as the first step to reducing them.

Other environmental measures initiated over the first 100 days include:

  • Plans to regulate coal-ash wastes following last year’s massive spill at a Tennessee Valley Authority facility in Tennessee. (See article EPA to Act on Coal Ash Problem);
  • A review of the permitting process for mountain-top removal coal-extraction;
  • Cutting funding for a controversial Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada
  • Creating a Clean Energy Service Corps as part of the landmark expansion of AmeriCorps
  • Streamlining the renewable energy loan guarantee program at the Department of Energy;
  • Winning approval for an economic stimulus package containing $62.2 billion in direct spending on green initiatives; $20 billion in green tax incentives (which are already having an impact on emissions); and money for renewable energy, improved energy transmission, smart-grid technology, housing retrofits, rail transit, and green jobs training.
  • Overturning a host of Bush administration ’midnight rule changes’ passed just before President-elect Barack Obama took office in January that were designed to give industry more leeway to extract natural resources (i.e. shale deposits), to dispose of toxic wastes, to promote tourism in previously protected natural habitats, and to relax federal assessment powers over the impacts of infrastructure projects.

Perhaps the biggest ’green achievement’ was passage of the administration’s first budget on the 100th day in office. The budget includes an additional funding for investments in clean energy and efficiency projects, more money for improved rail transportation services, investments to stimulate the growing green jobs market, and other measures to address climate change.

One measure originally included in the budget was a cap-and-trade plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 83 percent below 2005 levels by 2050. Although the Senate rejected approval of the plan through the budget process, its inclusion in the budget was a measure of how serious the Obama administration is about doing something to address climate change.

Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope, commenting on the first 100 days of the Obama administration noted "President Obama has done more to lay the foundation for the clean energy future in three months than has been done in the previous three decades. His economic recovery plan, the budget, and a sweeping set of executive branch actions amount to a huge down payment on a cleaner, more prosperous future."

"President Obama has done more to lay the foundation for the clean energy future in three months than has been done in the previous three decades", Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope

The energy and environment gains of the first 100 days were not limited to the President’s domestic agenda. He has also signaled a desire to work more closely with his North American partners - Canada and Mexico - to ensure greater cooperation on environmental, energy and climate change issues of common concern.

On the international front the U.S. President has signaled a strong desire to see a global climate deal reached in Copenhagen in December. Wisely he has not sought to make America the global leader on climate change - realizing that more can be gained by being part of an international team than by trying to be the superstar.

But every action taken at home and abroad has demonstrated a serious effort to make climate change and energy reform a reality within the President’s first year in office.  What has been achieved in President Obama’s first 100 days in office only shows that where there is a will, there is a way, and that leadership matters.

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