Future historians will inevitably judge all 21st-century presidents on just two issues: global warming and the clean energy transition. If the world doesn’t stop catastrophic climate change then all presidents, indeed, all of us, will be seen as failures and rightfully so.
In that sense, what team Obama has accomplished in the year since he was elected is nothing less than an unprecedented reversal of decades of unsustainable national policy forced down the throat of the American public by conservatives. Three game-changing accomplishments stand out:
- Green Stimulus: Progressives, Obama keep promise to jumpstart clean energy, economy — conservatives keep promise to jumpstop the future. The stimulus represents the single biggest increase in clean energy investment in U.S. history — $100 billion public investment aimed at driving, which is pulling in another $100 billion in public investment. Huge investments in energy efficiency, renewables, transmission and smart grid, and mass transit and train travel are already having a big impact, for instance, helping the wind industry survive and thrive in the great Bush-Cheney recession.
- Regulatory Breakthroughs: Obama will raise new car fuel efficiency standards to 35.5 mpg by 2015, which is 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 EPA has begun the process of developing regulations, and while that is a very imperfect way to address global warming, it ensures that the country will take some action in the event Congress can’t.
- First-ever climate bill advances: In June, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a landmark bipartisan climate bill, 219 – 212. It would complete America’s transition to a clean energy low-carbon economy, begun in the stimulus, ultimately driving $100 billion a year in total U.S. investments in clean energy technologies and industries.
You can see more details on these here — “Sure Obama ended the Bush depression, cut taxes for 98% of working families, and jumpstarted the shift to a clean energy economy with a $100 billion in stimulus funds — but what has the green FDR done lately?”
All that remains for Obama to claim the title as the green FDR is getting 60 votes or more for Senate passage of a climate and clean energy bill. That now appears likely thanks to the breakthrough Senate climate partnership between Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.). Indeed, E&E News’s latest analysis shows, “At least 67 senators are in play” on the climate bill. And Graham and Kerry are set to meet “with Energy Secretary Steven Chu, as well as with Obama’s top climate adviser, Carol M. Browner, and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to discuss a possible compromise.” If these White House negotiations succeed, then I also think an international climate deal is likely, with the framework to be laid out in the Copenhagen meeting this December, and details finalized next year after Obama signs a domestic bill.
All this together won’t guarantee that we preserve a livable climate, but it will give future presidents — working in concert with other countries — a fighting chance to do so.
That said, conservative denial and obstructionism remains strong, and a climate bill could still fail if team Obama does not remain vigilant. Obama is fulfilling his promise in the climate and clean energy arena, but much hard work remains.
One final point — to those (including me!) who wished that Obama would have taken a more aggressive and public role in shaping and lobbying for a climate and clean energy bill, I have only three words: health care reform. If you think a significantly stronger climate bill could be had in this political atmosphere, I’d just ask you to review the final House vote (and the state of play of the Senate bill). Remember, on the most transparently dire issue in the past few years — the need for an economic stimulus on the brink of the Bush-Cheney depression — Obama got ZERO House GOP votes and 3 Senate GOP votes (one of whom is now a Democrat), votes that in fact required Obama to water down the stimulus.