Now Let’s Get to Work, Starting with the House Stimulus Package

I had the good fortune of being in Washington for the inauguration. It was an amazing day, when I felt every one of the 2 million people in attendance was committed to a new future for America. Cheers surrounded me when Obama referred to clean energy from wind and solar. And as I watched Marine 1 carry Former President Bush out of town, I knew a new day had come for everyone who cares about the health of the Earth.

Now the work begins. And there is a tremendous amount.

Over the past few months, my NRDC colleagues and I have had the opportunity to share our recommendations with President Obama's team. NRDC was involved in the Clinton transition too, but it is different this time around. Environmental issues are a much higher priority on Obama's list, and NRDC is a more mature organization.

We have already participated in a host of meetings with members of the transition team on virtually all of our issues. And the impression I come away with each time is that this administration is extremely well prepared.

Still, it will take more than preparation to tackle the long list of challenges awaiting the new administration. It's a tough climate for progress in any arena, never mind what the new White House homepage says are Obama's top priorities: the economy, energy, and the environment.

President Obama can start moving his agenda forward right away by strengthening and supporting the House economic stimulus package announced last week.

The plan is not perfect. It is not as green as we would like it to be, especially in terms of public transit (see NRDC transportation expert Deron Lovaas' response here). But it does include more funding for green initiatives than we have seen in years. Clean energy solutions like smart grids, weatherizing homes, and renewable power sit at the centerpiece of a national stimulus bill for the first time ever. The package also includes the green job corps proposed by Van Jones and Green for All. This visionary program could be the Teach for America for a new generation.

The evening the House plan was released, I went to Union Station and caught a train bound for New York City. Who should I see onboard by "Amtrak Joe" Biden making his famous public-transit commute home to Delaware.

Biden won't be riding the rails as often as he used to, but I hope he and Obama encourage the House to include more transit funding in it stimulus package. Together with the other green incentives in the plan, that would go a long way toward creating the green jobs and the clean energy solutions the new administration has promised.

There will be other opportunities for the Congress and the administration to link economic recovery and green energy in the coming months. We will soon see an energy bill, transportation bill, and most importantly, a global warming bill. Last week, at his first hearing as Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Henry Waxman said he wants a climate bill reported out of committee by Memorial Day.

That is a demanding timeline, but rapid action is what we need when it comes to global warming. With continued support--and pressure--from the Obama administration, we can meet that deadline, and hopefully enact a national plan for curbing global warming by the end of the year.  

None of this will be easy, but it a relief to find willing partners in the White House. In the time I have spent in Washington this past week, I have noticed that in the midst of all the euphoria, Obama's team is already rolling up their sleeves and starting the work.

We are ready too.