Sure Obama got off to a good start, but what has the green FDR done lately?
The Washington Post has yet another dubious spin on Obama today, “Environmental Groups Wait to See Definitive Action From Obama“:
The abrupt resignation Saturday of White House “green jobs” adviser Van Jones has focused new attention on one of the Obama administration’s top priorities: the environment.
While Jones was criticized as a left-wing zealot, the Obama team’s record so far on the environment has been far from radical.
The White House’s main effort has been to undo several Bush-era policies on climate control, air pollution and the regulation of roadless forests. Those actions, combined with court decisions that have struck down other rules, have given President Obama a relatively blank canvas on which to redraw U.S. environmental policy. But the administration has been cautious, leaving key issues in limbo and questions unanswered about the way it would balance environmentalism and the economy.
Uhh, no, no, and no. Van Jones was the green jobs advisor. He was an ardent advocate for reducing pollution and poverty together with clean energy. So a media story that starts with his resignation can’t utterly ignore the staggering achievements in both clean energy and greenhouse gas emissions that Obama has already attained — gains that exceed his four predecessors combined. Well, I should have said a story “shouldn’t utterly ignore,” since this story does.
Obama’s record so far on clean energy and the most important environmental issue — global warming — may not be politically radical, but it is unparalleled in U.S. history.
Let’s remember, for instance, that Obama will raise new car fuel efficiency standard to 39 mpg by 2016 — The biggest step the U.S. government has ever taken to cut CO2. And the Obama EPA declared carbon pollution a serious danger to Americans’ health and welfare requiring regulation. The final EPA announcement should come this month, leading to the first ever national global warming regulations (at least for new power plants) — no matter what Congress does. Of course Obama helped get through the House of Representatives its first ever climate bill, which is also the first clean air bill in two decades — see The U.S. House of Representatives approves landmark (bipartisan!) climate bill, 219 – 212. Waxman-Markey would complete America’s transition to a clean energy economy, which started with the stimulus bill.
And then we have that amazing stimulus. Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com, in his post “Obama Has Cut Taxes for 98.6 Percent of Working* Households**” asserts, “One thing I don’t quite get has been the White House’s reluctance to highlight the non-infrastructure parts of the stimulus package.” In fact, the White House hasn’t done a very good job of touting the $100 billion in clean energy benefits of the infrastructure or most of its other energy and environmental achievements. Since the media, among others, seems to have forgotten, let me excerpt from my April 26 post, “The Green FDR: Obama’s first 100 days make — and may remake — history“:
Obama has clearly demonstrated he has a serious chance to be the first President since FDR to remake the country through his positive vision. Indeed, if Obama is a two-term president, if he achieves even half of what he has set out to, he will likely be remembered as “the green FDR.”
As an interesting side note, President Reagan, who is held in some esteem with historians these days, will almost certainly be relegated to a second-tier, if not third-tier, president by the painful dual realities of global warming and peak oil. After all, it was Ronald Reagan who put conservatives strongly and permanently on the pro-pollution, anti-efficiency, anti-clean-energy side, where they remain today (see “Who got us in this energy mess? Start with Ronald Reagan” and “Why is our energy policy so lame? Ask the three GOP stooges” and “Hill conservatives reject all 3 climate strategies and embrace Rush Limbaugh“). It is Reagan, more than anyone else, who put the GOP on the self-destructively wrong side of scientific reality (though Newt Gingrich is a close second).
Here is a partial list of what Obama has achieved in his first 100 days, laying the groundwork for him becoming the Green FDR:
- Obama began the process of blocking the vast majority of new coal plants. The EPA has stopped one new coal plant in South Dakota (Obama EPA blocks South Dakota Coal Power Plant), reversed the Bush EPA’s effort to ignore the Supreme Court decision that determined carbon dioxide was a pollutant (and hence that CO2 emissions from new coal-fired power plants needed regulating), and initiated the process of regulating greenhouse gases for the first time in U.S. history.
- He began the process of dramatically increasing the efficiency of our vehicles, by ordering EPA to quickly give California and a dozen other states the right to put in place tough emissions requirements for tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gases — and by ordering the Department of Transportation to quickly issue and phase-in tougher fuel economy standards to comply with the 2007 Energy Bill, the first overhaul of the nation’s fuel efficiency standards in over three decades (see here).
- He appointed a first-rate Cabinet and then unleashed them to start inconvenient-truth-telling to the public after eight years of Administration denial and muzzling of U.S. scientists (see Steven Chu: “Wake up,” America, “we’re looking at a scenario where there’s no more agriculture in California,” and “This is a real economic disaster in the making for our children, for your children”).
- In every single major speech, he has focused on the urgent need for the clean energy transition, for a price for carbon (cap-and-trade and “closing the carbon loophole”), and the unsustainability of our current economic system (see Obama gets the Ponzi scheme: “The choice we face is not between saving our environment and saving our economy. The choice we face is between prosperity and decline.”)
- He signed into law the tax credits needed to achieve his ambitious goal of 1 million plug-in hybrids by 2015 — the key alternative fuel vehicle strategy needed to avert the worst consequences of three decades of successful conservative efforts to stop this country from dealing with the energy/economic security threat of rising dependence on imported oil and the inevitably grim impacts of peak oil (see “Why electricity is the only alternative fuel that can lead to energy independence“). He also enacted into law $2 billion in grants and loans for R&D into advanced vehicle batteries, a tenfold increase over current funding. Plug-ins and electric cars, of course, are a core climate solution, since electric drives are more efficient, easily powered by carbon-free energy and indeed far cheaper to operate per mile than gasoline, even when running on renewable power. In the longer term, plug ins and electric cars can also help enable the full renewable revolution.
- He signed into law a massive investment in mass transit and train travel — and laid out an aggressive vision for a high-speed rail network. The 70% boost in funding is a crucial effort needed to prepare this country for a time when air travel simply becomes too expensive for most people (and then a slightly later time when air travel is seen as simply too destructive of a livable climate) — a time not very far away — one that the vast majority of readers of this blog will live to see.
- He signed into law the tax credits needed meet his ambitious goal of doubling renewables in his first term (see “Another big win for renewables in the stimulus bill“).
- He signed into law the funding needed to jumpstart a 21st smart grid that is critical to enable the renewable energy, energy efficiency, and plug-in hybrid revolution. He also made what may be his most important appointment, Jon Wellinghoff for Energy Commission Chief, who understands the future is not filled with new coal and nuclear plants (see “We may not need any, ever”), and who has already begun jumpstarting the new, green grid (”Huge ‘Green Power Express’ wind grid gains federal rate incentives“).
- He signed into law the single biggest investment in the deployment of energy-efficient technology in U.S. history, along with strong incentives for state governments to fix their inefficiency-promoting utility regulations.
- For the first time in three decades, he more than doubled the annual budget for advanced energy efficiency, renewable energy, and low carbon technology after Reagan slashed federal efficiency and renewables investments 80% to 90%, which launched decades of vehement ideological opposition to clean tech by even so-called moderate and maverick conservatives (see “Is a possible 60th Senate seat worth a not-very-green GOP Commerce Secretary?” and “The greenwasher from Arizona has a record as dirty as the denier from Oklahoma“).
- He put forward the first sustainable budget in U.S. history, one that invests in clean energy, included cap-and-trade revenue, and seeks repeal of fossil industry subsidies. Yes, he made a serious tactical mistake by tentatively pursuing the possibility of trying to pass a climate bill through reconciliation, which allowed conservatives to score some meaningless tactical political victories and thereby confuse the media into thinking Obama was himself not serious about this issue (see George Stephanopoulos, Nate Silver, and Marc Ambinder all seem confused about global warming and budget politics and Obama says his energy plan and cap-and-trade “will be authorized” even if it’s not in the budget “and I will sign it” — Washington Post confused. In fact his budget and every thing he has done as president shows the reverse is true, that he understands the fate of his presidency and the health and well-being of the American public rests on his success in passing serious energy and climate legislation.
Years from now, long after the economy has recovered, this may well be remembered as the time that progressives, led by Obama, began the climate-saving transition to a sustainable low-carbon economy built around green jobs.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that this history-making first 100 days won’t remake history. It’s more than possible that we won’t stop catastrophic warming. But if we don’t stop the hundreds of years of misery, of “Hell and High Water,” that will almost certainly be because the conservative movement threw their entire weight behind humanity’s self-destruction (see “Anti-science conservatives must be stopped“) — because conservatives in both chambers refuse to conserve anything, including a livable climate, and willingly sacrificed the health and well-being of the next 50 generations of Americans for their ideology.
But even if we fail to stop the catastrophe, there is no escape from Americans, indeed, all humans, ultimately having a low-carbon, low-oil, low-water low-natural-capital lifestyle. And thus the vast majority of Obama’s initiatives will be recognized by future generations and future historians as the point at which the U.S. government embraced the inevitable and started down the sustainable path that presidents either chose to embrace voluntarily in time to avoid the worst impacts or were forced to embrace by the collapse of the global Ponzi scheme.
Obama is the first president in history to articulate both the why and how of the sustainable vision — and to actively, indeed aggressively, pursue its enactment. And that is why he is likely to be remembered as the green FDR.
The Post claims the administration has left “questions unanswered about the way it would balance environmentalism and the economy.” I don’t think so. Obama has reiterated his view at every chance — and followed through with serious policies:
“The choice we face is not between saving our environment and saving our economy. The choice we face is between prosperity and decline… We can allow climate change to wreak unnatural havoc across the landscape, or we can create jobs working to prevent its worst effects…. The nation that leads the world in creating new energy sources will be the nation that leads the 21st-century global economy.”
Obviously, if Obama fails to get a serious climate and clean energy bill through the Senate and onto his desk in 2010 — and thus fails to get a global climate deal — then he won’t be remembered as the green FDR. So that must remain a top priority, and I expect it will.
But it is absurd to say today that Obama has been anything less than a top tier president on both clean energy and the most important environmental issue we face.