On the one year anniversary of Obama‘s election, the New York Times has run an article assessing Barack on some of the issues which have defined his presidency to date. One of the areas covered is Energy and Environment. The analysis is not very in-depth, divided into one paragraph about his campaign promises and one about the action he’s taken in office.
A headline atop the Energy and Environment section sums its contents and Obama’s record on the issue up nicely: “Some progress, but the big fight is still ahead.”
As a candidate, Barack Obama called for a transformation in the way the United States produces and consumes energy to address global warming and to reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil. He supported an economy-wide cap-and-trade system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by forcing utilities and industries to pay for the right to emit carbon dioxide and other pollutants. Some of the revenue was to be returned to consumers to cover higher energy costs; some was to be invested in renewable energy projects. He also called for much higher mileage standards for cars and light trucks as a way to cut oil imports.
President Obama, using executive rule-making authority, achieved a notable deal with automakers that will increase fuel efficiency and reduce tailpipe emissions by more than 30 percent by 2016. The stimulus package enacted early in the year included about $80 billion for renewable energy programs, transportation projects, energy efficiency, modernization of the electricity grid and research on capture and storage of carbon emissions. But the cap-and-trade proposal has stalled in Congress, stymied by industry lobbyists and regional concerns about job losses and higher energy prices. Mr. Obama’s pledge to tackle global warming in earnest fell victim to his and Congress’s focus on health care for much of the year and will have to wait until 2010 at the earliest.
While the administration and like-minded Congresspeople have not yet passed cap and trade or other comprehensive emissions reduction legislation, they have clearly modernized and rationalized the American policy approach towards energy and the environment.
While health care has been the national obsession for the past several months, energy and environment may get their day in the sun relatively shortly. The Copenhagen Convention is coming up in December, and that should thrust the issue onto the national stage in a big way.
The United States has spent the last decade acting as a barrier to global action on climate change, and Copenhagen is a great opportunity to take a leadership position on the issue. Surely the search for international consensus will drive a national conversation on how to deal with environmental and energy policy.
What perhaps most strikes me about this article is that it’s a promising sign that the two subjects, energy and environment, are now so intrinsically linked. The connection between energy use and its environmental impact has become second nature. Establishing an understanding of this link in the public consciousness is essential for making progress on the environmental sustainability of our society.
We are still doing more talking about the problem than enacting solutions, but we can now finally say that the solutions are well underway. Areas from biofuels to electric cars to renewable electricity to energy efficiency to organic food are gaining momentum and large corporations are going beyond simply meeting regulations, finding ways to drive down costs and increase revenues through sustainability initiatives.
There is still a lot that the Obama administration can do on the energy and environment front over the next three years, and year one shows us that the will is there.
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