People often ask me these days what it is like to advocate for environmental protections under the Obama administration. My answer is simple: it is a tremendous relief. It has only been six weeks since President Obama took office, but already the landscape has changed dramatically.
Back in the long dark days of the Bush administration, NRDC kept what we called the Bush Record. It was a compendium of the many Bush policies that undermined or completely eradicated our nation's environmental safeguards. We posted it online because it had to be updated so often.
Thankfully those days are over. The decisions coming out of Washington now are actually strengthening America's protections for the air, water, and atmosphere that we rely on.
Of course, there will be challenges ahead. Government agencies will make decisions NRDC doesn't agree with, and Congress will still require vigilant watchdogs. But the Obama administration has already taken several bold and affirmative steps to protect public health and the environment, and I think they deserve to be trumpeted. Here is the beginning of what I hope will be a very long list:
- January 26, 2009: President Obama directs the EPA to reconsider the agency's decision to deny California's strong limits on global warming pollution from cars, and he calls on the Department of Transportation to raise national fuel efficiency standards.
- February 4, 2009: More than 100,000 acres of Utah wilderness win protection from oil and gas drilling after the Department of Interior announced thatit will cancel 77 leases issued under the Bush administration.
- February 5, 2009: President Obama signs apresidential memorandum requesting that the Department of Energyset new efficiency standards for common household appliances.This will save in 30 years the amount of energy produced by all the coal-fired power plants in America over a two-year period.
- February 6, 2009: The EPA announces itwill reconsider its decision to deny California permission to set standards controlling greenhouse gases from motor vehicles.
- February 6, 2009: On instruction from EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, the Solicitor General asks the Supreme Court to drop the Bush administration's desperate appeal to resurrect EPA's illegal and harmful power plant mercury rule.
- February 10, 2009: Department of Interior Secretary Salazar announces that he is going to make a thorough review of the five-year Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas leasing program that was announced in the final days of the Bush administration.
- February 10, 2009: Administrator Jackson grants a petition by NRDC to reconsider and "stay" for three months a harmful midnight air pollution rule adopted by the Bush administration in mid-January 2009 that would allow dirty industries to release more pollution.
- February 13, 2009: Congress came to an agreement on an economic stimulus package that includes bold investments for renewable power and energy efficiency, including weatherization programs that will save consumers billions while creating up to 90,000 jobs. Repairing our nation's outdated and corroded water and waste systems will also create more than 200,000 jobs and improve the safety of our beaches, streams, and drinking water.
- February 17, 2009: EPA Administrator Jackson grants a petition by NRDC, Sierra Club and EDF to reconsider a disputed memo signed by Administrator Johnson in December 2008 that refused to regulate carbon dioxide from new coal-fired power plants. She announced that EPA would convene a public process to review this memo, in what was widely seen as the first step to reversing the Bush policy.
- February 20, 2009: The Obama administration puts its support behind an international, legally binding treaty to reduce global mercury pollution. This position--a dramatic change for the stonewalling of the Bush years--influences policy reversals from other nations including China and India. Now more than 140 countries commit to regulating this dangerous neurotoxin.
- February 24, 2009: In his first State of the Union address, Obama calls on Congress to pass legislation to cap global warming pollution and drive expansion of renewable energy. He also pledges $15 billion a year to invest in solar, wind, biofuels, and more efficient vehicles, and to put American to work making our homes and buildings more energy efficient.
- February 25, 2009: Thousands of acres in Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado will be protected from harmful oil shale research and development after Department of Interior Secretary Salazar announces thathe will reverse course on the Bush administration's leasing program.
- February 26, 2009: The Obama administration releases a federal budget that is the first in history to make critical investments in our clean energy future and tackle global warming head on. It includes revenue from a cap and invest program to limit global warming pollution, which is forecast to generate $150 billion over 10 years starting in 2012.
This is an impressive list, but it is only the beginning. President Obama initial decisions show that he meant what he said on the campaign trail. He has a bold, ambitious vision to move American to a new clean energy future, and he has a powerful sense that the safeguards protecting our health and environment must be strengthened. But most important, he has the conviction to put those beliefs into action.