Photo via NY Mag
Obama entered the oval office upon a pedestal of impossible expectations--one he helped built himself during the 2008 campaign. Now, many Americans have predictably soured, as promises made on the campaign trail remain largely unkept. Where's the comprehensive health care reform? The abolition of Don't Ask Don't Tell? The closed Guantanamo? All those green jobs? The bitterness is sharper because so many were counting on Obama to be so much more than a typical politician. But it's also worth remembering that he's accomplished a lot, too. As the first year of his term to a close, here are the 11 highlights--and lowlights--of Obama's progress on green issues thus far.
1. Rollback of Bush Rules
Obama kicked off his term on the environmental front by overturning or suspending a number of Bush administration rules regarding endangered species and conservation. Bush had approved a series of 'midnight rulings' that infuriated environmentalists, and Obama made a clear and early signal that he would by doing things differently.
Photo via Ibew191
2. The Stimulus Bill Invests in Clean Energy
The stimulus bill was big news--it represented the single largest investment in clean tech by the US government ever. It also included tax cuts for energy efficient improvements and initiatives to spur green job growth. Obama left it up to Congress to write the bill, which would come to be a trademark of his governing style. As a result, critics have complained that it did too little (of course, others have complained it did and spent far too much), and has not been as effective as many have hoped--though it is largely agreed that it has spared the US from a full-on depression.
3. Moves EPA to Regulate Greenhouse Gases
More good news for environmentalists--and all Americans who had long waited for their government to recognize climate change as a threat--came in spring 2009, when Obama's newly re-energized EPA issued an endangerment finding stating that greenhouse gas emissions were a threat to public health. This paved the way for the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions--which it still plans on doing only for the nation's top polluters, and sent a signal to the rest of the world that the US was finally serious about tackling climate change.
4. Sets a National Auto Emission Standard
April marked the single largest move to cut greenhouse gas emissions in US history. Obama set a national auto emissions standard: all cars must get 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016, with the fuel efficiency standard raising each year until then. The move will save 1.8 billion barrels of oil by 2016 alone, and will be the emissions-reduction equivalent of taking 177 million cars off the road.
5. Getting the US to Start Talking Climate
Just being a willing participant in international climate talks was a major improvement over the previous administration--which is why Obama's move to affirm US involvement and send cooperative delegations to climate talks from the beginning of the year onward gave many hope for promising results in Copenhagen.
6. The Rise of the Climate Bill - But Where's Obama?
Spring also saw the rise of the Waxman-Markey clean energy and climate bill in the House of Reps, which after fierce debate, passed in June. While certainly a historic milestone in its own right, many criticized Obama's lack of involvement in the process. He was conspicuously quiet while the bill made the rounds, though he was reported to hold some meetings and apply last-minute pressure before the vote in the House. And while he's been an ardent supporter of climate action--he praised the bill's passage--whether because health care reform consumed the stage or otherwise, Obama has barely stumped for the clean energy bill still languishing in the Senate. Some are quick to point out, however, that more vocal support from Obama may have done little to move the bill along.