Washington Feels Like a New City

Last week I traveled to Washington for the first time since the inauguration, and returning was a revelation. It is almost impossible to describe the changed atmosphere there and to absorb the impact of the shift in administration. People are energized and their enthusiasm is contagious. There is electricity in the D.C. air, a sense that bold, ambitious changes are occurring that will put America on a cleaner, more sustainable path.  

I felt that energy every where I went. I felt it on Tuesday evening when I watched President Obama's State of the Union address and heard him repeatedly make the link between creating a clean energy future and generating economic growth. Most importantly he called on congress to enact a cap on carbon to address global warming

I felt it the next day when I went to the Hill to meet with lawmakers. We started the day off with an NRDC breakfast reception for House members, where we had a bipartisan group of members. Representative Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) had the line of the morning. Speaking about global warming, he said, "I may be a conservative, but I am not an idiot." 

I met with several senators that day, including Senator Reid. They are ready to move on climate legislation in this Congress. But all of us realize that we have a lot of work to do in order to get a strong bill passed.  

During the trip, Carol Browner, the assistant to the President for energy and climate change, addressed NRDC's board of Trustees. First we applauded her for the many actions the administration has taken on climate and energy just in the last month, including the commitments to improve fuel efficiency in cars and the economic stimulus package which Browner described as the largest energy bill ever passed. Then she announced that the federal budget (released the next day) would for the first time include revenue from a cap and invest program to limit global warming. This action heightens the pressure on congress to act promptly.

It's obvious that the president and his top advisers have a clear vision of how to get America on the road to a more sustainable energy and climate future. Browner conveyed a strong commitment that we really could arrive at that destination together. Many in Washington seem to share that commitment these days. Our new leaders, including the inspiring EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson who also spoke to NRDC's board, recognize that these are challenging times. But they also see that Americans are eager for bold plans that improve our health, preserve our environment, and jumpstart our economy.

It will take a committed citizenry to help them make this vision a reality.