Obama Comes to Copenhagen with an Impressive Record on the Environment

When President Obama comes to the Copenhagen climate summit on Friday, he brings an extraordinary record of environmental accomplishment--a record that should help back up the pledges he makes at the negotiating table.

Obama's vision of creating a cleaner future for our children is clearly resonating in Copenhagen, adding to the growing momentum for action. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson got a standing ovation here when she spoke about U.S. progress on climate thus far.

It will take firm U.S. commitments to realize this sense of promise, but already the record speaks for itself. Here’s a quick look at some key milestones.

Putting the Most Qualified Team in Place

Soon after his election, Obama built an experienced, diverse and high-quality team of White House advisers, cabinet members, and agency staff to focus on his environmental agenda. From the start, Obama's team set the right tone for the environmental stewardship the country so urgently needs.

Taking Bold Action on Climate Change and Clean Energy

Obama moved quickly to put clean energy and climate protection at the top of an assertive agenda. The administration followed-up on the 2007 Supreme Court ruling and declared carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases a threat to public health; mandated that major facilities publicly report carbon emissions beginning early next year; and proposed the first ever greenhouse gas and fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks, a measure expected to save 1.8 billion barrels of oil.

The president pushed to secure House approval of historic clean energy and climate legislation in June and is working to advance Senate backing of companion legislation in 2010.

He also worked with Congress to make more than $50 billion available for renewable energy investments and improvement in the energy efficiency of homes, cars and workplaces. This includes a historic investment of $3.4 billion to modernize the energy grid by improving transmission and reducing the amount of power wasted. This funding is creating jobs and putting the country on the path to a clean energy economy - improving energy security and national security at the same time.

In the lead-up to Copenhagen, he set a goal of cutting U.S. carbon emissions by about 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020. He worked closely with leaders of China, India, Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia and other countries to secure pledges aimed at curbing the growth of such emissions worldwide. His climate envoy, Todd Stern, is pressing these countries to turn promises into action in Copenhagen.

Obama also signed an executive order for federal agencies to set a greenhouse gas emissions reduction target for 2020; increase energy efficiency and other important measures to reduce carbon emissions and protect the environment.

Protecting Our Oceans, Wildlands, and Public Health

Beyond clean energy and climate change, the administration has pursued a broad environmental agenda with a number of important actions already taken and precedents set. The administration has:

  • Blocked what would have been the largest mountaintop removal coal mining operation in Appalachia, and put 79 other such projects on hold, pending environmental review.
  • Canceled the sale of 77 oil and gas leases in Red Rock Canyon wilderness in Utah.
  • Advanced efforts to secure a global treaty to cut mercury pollution, reversing years of U.S. opposition.
  • Initiated strategic partnerships with China, India and our Latin American neighbors to expand international cooperation on clean energy goals.
  • Created an Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force to develop a national strategy to protect and restore ocean, coastal and Great Lakes ecosystems.
  • Put in place new standards to reduce toxic mercury and soot emissions from power plants that burn coal and oil.
  • Initiated a review of the toxicity of atrazine, a dangerous and widely used herbicide that is pervasive in water supplies in Midwestern states.

In addition to these accomplishments, the administration has sown the seed for further gains. He's directed federal agencies to cooperate on ways to revive the Chesapeake Bay, the nation's largest natural estuary. He's returned scientific integrity to environmental policy-making. And he's working to reduce our nuclear weapons stockpile and win Senate ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, meant to end test explosions.

More work remains to be done to realize the president's vision of a prosperous, secure, and sustainable future for our country and the world. But Americans--including those present at the climate talks this time around--can be proud of the promising start this president has made and of the exceptional team he's put together to advance this vital work.