First 100 Days a Good Dress Rehearsal: Now We Need the Main Act

I have traveled to Washington many times since President Obama took office 100 days ago, and each time I go, I am struck by the action-oriented and economics-driven tone he has set for clean energy and global warming policy.

I sensed early on that Obama came to the White House ready to roll on climate solutions. Right away he selected a team of skilled scientists and legal experts to advise him, but he hasn't left all the leadership to his cabinet secretaries and federal agencies.  

He himself has offered critical direction. He has used his speeches and policy proposals to advance a host of clean energy initiatives, and he has repeatedly underscored the role that green energy technology will play in jumpstarting our economy. (See a timeline of the Obama administration's environmental actions below.)

But while Obama's initial commitments have been a very good start, they are still just the dress rehearsal for real climate action. The main act will be a national law that allows America to fight global warming by spurring clean energy innovation.

That law will come from Congress, not the White House, and Rep. Henry Waxman holds the drafting pen right now.

Obama has expressed his support for this kind of law every chance he gets, but as the legislation moves further along in the process, I hope he will get more deeply engaged. I hope he will lead, guide, and press our lawmakers to pass it this year.

There is no sense in waiting, not when a climate law will advance two central pieces of Obama's agenda: economic growth and energy security.

Hitting the Ground Running

Obama began transforming the climate landscape way back in January. Just one week after the inauguration, I got invited to come to the White House. Let me put this in context. During the eight long years of President Bush, I was asked to come to the White House exactly once. But just six days into the new administration, I got an invitation, and it was to witness Obama take two important climate steps.

First, he directed the EPA to reconsider its denial--under President Bush--of California's right to limit global warming pollution from cars. And second, he called on the Department of Transportation to raise fuel efficiency standards.

Then, a week later, he asked the Department of Energy to set new efficiency standards for common household appliances. This move alone will save in 30 years the amount of energy produced by ALL the coal-fired power plants in America over a 2-year period. 

A Milestone: Clean Energy Is Center Stage in Major Economic Plans

The first few months of the administration brought a flurry of welcome environmental decisions, but what I found most stunning was that Obama put clean energy at the center of his two showcase economic proposals: the stimulus package and the federal budget.

His stimulus package identified clean energy innovation as an essential economic engine. And it set aside funds and tax incentives to get more technologies into the mainstream.

  • The recovery package provides incentives to double renewable energy production.
  • It calls for weatherizing 75 percent of federal buildings, and sets aside $5 billion to weatherize people's home, a program that will save consumers billions while creating up to 90,000 jobs.
  • The plan also offers renewable energy grants to help struggling businesses advance wind and solar technology in the midst of the current economic crisis.

Obama's budget was the first in history to propose making critical investments in our clean energy future and tackle global warming head on. The action has now moved directly to Congress but the President's leadership will remain crucial.

Setting the Stage for the Main Act

President Obama's economic proposals are poised to make a real and lasting imprint on our energy landscape: Americans will grow accustomed to seeing more wind farms, more energy efficient windows, and more green-collar workers because of the money Obama was willing to commit to securing our energy future.

But we can't stop there. A law that puts a price on carbon emissions will give the private sector the incentive it needs to build on the government's investment in clean energy.

That's why I hope to see President Obama sustain his already promising green leadership by continuing to urge Congress to pass a climate law.