September 11, 2009

A Sustainable President


Obama is the first president 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.

Here is a partial list of what Obama has achieved in his first 100 days, laying the groundwork for him becoming the Green FDR:

  1. 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.
  2. 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 toughrt 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).
  3. He appointed a first-rate Cabinet and then unleashed them to start inconvenient-truth telling to the public after 8 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”).
  4. 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.”)
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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“).
  8. 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“).
  9. 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.
  10. 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“).
  11. 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.

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