Many environmentally minded Americans welcomed Obama to the office of the President a year ago with high hopes that he would be able to at least start righting the environmental wrongs that had occured during the previous administration.
No matter how critical you want to be of the things that were or were not accomplished by the Obama administration, you have to admit that they took over quite a mess. With a war overseas that was quickly disintegrating into chaos and an economy that was at its lowest point in decades demanded Obama's immediate attention, while an impending climate crisis threatened to change the very face of the planet that we all depend on for survival, the only guarantee was that no matter which he tackled first, someone was going to be put out.
Needless to say, it's been a busy year.
Part of our responsibility as Americans (and planetary citizens) is to hold our political representatives accountable, which means that we must look back to see whether or not actions over the past year have matched the promises that were made before the election.
Here are some of the highlights from this past year under the first year of the Obama White House. Ask yourself whether you're happy with the progress, and if the answer is no, ask yourself what you're going to do about it. And then take action!
The Good: Renewable Energy, Green Jobs, and Regulation
Purposeful action was taken to put clean energy at the top of legislative lists in both the House and the Senate, right from the start of the Obama term.
The administration followed-up on the 2007 Supreme Court ruling and declared carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases a threat to public health; mandated that major facilities publicly report carbon emissions beginning early this year; and proposed the first-ever greenhouse gas and fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks, a measure expected to save 1.8 billion barrels of oil (NRDC).
An investment of more than $50 billion available for renewable energy investments and improvement in the energy efficiency of homes, cars and workplaces created green collar jobs and meant that the U.S. has taken its first steps toward an ecomony based on renewable, domestically available energy sources, a change that can't come a moment too soon.
The Bad: Endangered Species, Mountain Top Removal Mining
In a shock to many who had hoped that the Obama administration would be able to correct the irresponsible environmental and wildlife policies that riddled the Bush administration, the hunting of the gray wolf was once again made legal in the United States, for the first time in decades.
The end of 2009 saw an unprecedented chance for the United States to take a leading role in the climate change change debate by bringing an agressive climate regulation bill to Copenhagen, but despite thousands of petition signatures, political controversy prevented the House and Senate from reaching an agreemement.
While big ticket issues like climate change and healthcare monopolized most of the public and media attention, less popular issues like the negative impact of mountain top removal mining were shoved to the back burner. Despite the initial positive action of freezing over 70 new mountain top removal mining permits in the begining of the term, and declaring that it would finally take an in depth look at the potentally hazardous environmental consequences of this destructive practice, the EPA cracked under the pressure, and approved more mountain top removal mining sites in the already devastated West Virginina mountains.
The Dissapointing: Copenhagen, Superfund Sites, Ethanol
Without a doubt, the President's unwillingness to commit to a meaningful appearance at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen was one of his more obvious environmental dissapointments. Concerned environmentalists begged, wrote letters, pleaded, and signed petitions for months leading up to the conference, only to finally find out in the 11th hour that he would attend only for one day. The decision was presented almost as an after thought, and reports included the qualification that Obama would only stop in "on his way to Oslo to pick up the Nobel Peace Prize."
Although many thought that under Obama the EPA would emerge stronger and more empowered than ever before, the reality has been a lackluster agency that seems to take one step forward only to take two steps back. Many were shocked when Obama's EPA announced that that over its first three years it would clean up less Superfund sites—the nation's most contaminated places—than any administration since 1991, including the Bush administration (Mongabay.com). The EPA will only finalize clean up on 42 sites in the next two years, although 527 sites remain that require cleaning-up.
When the U.S. first started to wake up to the fact that oil and coal were both dirty and unreliable sources of energy, science was frantic to come up with an alternative that could be produced here at home. Many thought ethanol (a corn-based gasoline additive) could have been that silver bullet, but instead it drove up the price of food, and remained unaccessible and impractical for many drivers. Despite the fact that subsequent studies have shown that ethanol is anything but environmentally friendly, "the President continues to stand behind ethanol, bowing to political pressure from lobbyists with powerful agricultural companies and representatives from the Midwest who want subsidies on ethanol, even though science has proven it is inefficient" (Mongabay.com).