Under the Bush administration, greenhouse-gas emission legislation was considered excessive regulation that could prove harmful to U.S. businesses. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, under Bush, denied a request under the Clean Air Act to establish tail-pipe emission standards – claiming that such regulations were not within their authority. In Massachusetts v. EPA in 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court scolded the Bush EPA for providing what seemed a “laundry list of reasons not to regulate” greenhouse emissions rather than basing their arguments on science. However, following his first 100 days in office as the President of the United States, Barack Obama’s policies have proven to be in stark contrast to those of George W. Bush. Within his first week in office, Obama announced the closure of Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, reversed aid restriction policies for organizations that provide abortions, limited lobbyist influence within the administration, and held an interview with al-Arabiya where Obama offered a hand of friendship to Muslims and demonstrated his desire to work diplomatically with the Middle East. Now fourteen weeks in, Obama’s sharp departure from his predecessor continues – including the appearance of a notable shift in the United States’ stance on climate change.
Marking Obama’s first 100 days in office, the following is a summary of United States climate change policy under the direction of the Obama administration:
Days 1-25 (Jan 20-Feb 13): In an effort to reverse former President Bush’s policy on climate change and take the United States in a new, greener, direction, Obama follows up on the request under the Clean Air Act. Only one week into office, Obama asks the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider its ruling and review whether states should be allowed to set more stringent emission standards than is currently federally mandated. Additionally, Obama directs American automakers to develop more fuel efficient cars and trucks for models with release dates starting in 2011.
Days 26-50 (Feb 14-Mar 10): Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress pass the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act totaling nearly $800 billion. Included within this massive bill are substantial investments in clean and renewable energy, infrastructure, and scientific research including $7.22 billion for programs administered by the EPA. The administration’s states that their rationale for the funding was not only to help in the economic recovery in the United States but also to increase the number of green jobs, promote technological innovation, reduce U.S. dependency on foreign oil and ensure a healthier environment. In addition, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visits China and invites China to join the U.S. in curbing greenhouse gas emissions.
Days 51-75 (Mar 11-April 4): On March 23rd, Obama announces to the White House that $129 billion of his $3 trillion budget proposal for the year is allocated for environmental plans – such as renewable energy, solar power and hybrid cars – and is off limits to bartering by Congress. This pledge by Obama comes as the EPA makes another large announcement: following years of resistance under the Bush administration, the EPA tells the White House that global warming is, in fact, a danger to public health. On March 31st, the House Energy and Commerce Committee, along with the Environment Sub-Committee, announce the draft of the “American Clean Energy and Security Act 2009”. This draft is potentially a landmark step toward ushering in a clean energy economy through carbon emission tracking and regulation by the United States. A few days later, Obama attends the G20 Summit in London where he holds a bilateral meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Obama and Singh touch on the issue of “energy and how important it is for the United States to lead by example in reducing our carbon footprint so that we can help to forge agreements with countries like China and India…for our efforts to control climate change.”
Days 76-100 (April 5-29): On April 17th, the EPA makes their announcement official: scientific studies show that CO2 and other greenhouse gases “endanger” the health and well-being of humans. The formal recognition by the EPA marks an important step under the Clean Air Act toward the establishment of national emission standards for large emitters. A week later, in recognition of Earth Day on April 22nd, Obama signs a proclamation which affirms the importance of protecting the environment and addressing global warming. In addition, amidst Earth Day celebrations, the House Energy and Commerce Committee spend the week holding hearings on the draft of legislation of the “American Clean Energy and Security Act 2009“. These hearings include testimonies by over 60 witnesses including Energy Secretary Steven Chu, former Vice President and Nobel laureate Al Gore, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, and representatives from manufacturing, energy, and environmental groups. Negotiations continue and the bill will likely go before the House of Representatives by Memorial Day on May 25th.
It has only been 100 days into President Barack Obama’s administration and, so far, the United States has made great strides toward greening America’s image. The next 100 days may prove more difficult, however, as details of the “American Clean Energy and Security Act 2009” are worked out between Republicans and Democrats in Congress. Furthermore, announcements and gestures are more easily accomplished than finding funding or implementing projects, particularly when unexpected bailouts or emergencies such as Swine Flu arise. Therefore, it is important to look beyond the first 100 days of a presidency to determine the true direction of a policy. While the success of the new policies are yet to be determined, if there is anything certain from observing the first 100 days of Obama’s term in office it is that Barack Obama is definitely not anything like George W. Bush.