Goodbye, President Obama, We’ll Miss You So
by RONA FRIED, Ph.D.
During the week before the earth shattering (literally) presidential election, President Obama added to his steady stream of policies that have been moving us to a renewable energy-based economy and away from fossil fuels.
The Department of Transportation announced it would create 48 electric vehicle charging corridors in 35 states to lift sales of electric cars. Drivers will be able to find charging stations along interstate highways every 50 miles!
Because Obama significantly raised fuel economy standards for cars (54 mpg by 2025!) and trucks, automakers have no choice but to make plug-in models. In just a few years, there are 20 models and 16,000 charging stations, and battery costs have come down 70%, making EVs much cheaper in the future. And that’s not mentioning the huge gains in gas mileage (and lower emissions).
At the same time, Obama set a goal for federal fleets to cut greenhouse gas emissions 30% by 2025, forcing them to buy plug-ins. Twenty-four state and local governments joined the effort.
Also right before the election, the White Housechaired Council on Climate Preparedness and Resilience – which includes senior officials from every federal agency – released their report on what we need to do to survive climate change. As part of that, 97 universities agreed to work together to train design and build professionals on how to build in resilience across our society. The federal government spent $357 billion over the last ten years battling extreme weather events, which will “grow significantly in the coming decades,” the report says.
And in another move right before the election, the federal government released another $28 million in grants – for a total of $66 million – to help coal-based regions transition to other forms of employment.
In October, the world agreed to a binding agreement to phase out climate forcing HFCs, a goal Obama had been working towards for years. The Paris Climate Agreement entered force, thanks to Obama’s leadership, and the world signed an agreement to begin cap-and-trade for the aviation industry.
In September, Obama required climate change to be fully incorporated into all national security policies and strategies.
In July, he made solar more accessible to low- and middle-income households and veterans through the Clean Energy Savings For All Initiative, with a goal of one gigawatt of solar by 2020.
Here are Obama’s wide-ranging executive actions on the environment just in the past three years:
- In 2015, a series of executive orders launched the National Community Solar Partnership and block grants and technical assistance for energy upgrades and solar in federally-subsidized low income housing. Projects sprung up across the country, such as a $100 million energy efficiency lift in New York City. He also made it easier for homeowners to finance energy upgrades and solar systems.
- He held a Clean Energy Investment Summit to mobilize long-term private investments. Investors committed $4 billion to back potentially breakthrough technologies – double President Obama’s goal.
- The State Department made climate change one of four top priorities.
- He set goals for the federal government to cut emissions 41.8% by 2025 (from 2008 levels) and to use 30% renewable energy by then for ALL energy, not just electricity.
- He directed all agencies to incorporate sea level rise projections into planning and construction along US coasts. Any project in a flood-prone area – including buildings and roads – must be able to withstand flooding to receive federal funds.
- In 2014, FEMA announced states would receive disaster preparedness funds only if they have climate resiliency plans.
- He began a program to train 50,000 low income people for solar jobs, increased to 75,000 the next year. The Department of Energy’s Solar Instructor Training Network makes it possible. The Solar Ready Vets Program trains veterans.
- Under the Rural Energy for America Program, the Department of Agriculture is investing $68 million in 540 projects that bring renewable energy and energy efficiency to farms and rural areas across the country.
- Building codes are being updated to meet the latest ANSI/ASHRAE/IES Standard (commercial) and International Energy Conservation Code (residential).
- Companies that want shipping contracts with the General Services Administration must meet annual targets for cutting emissions.
- Issued an executive order to stop wildlife trafficking and elephant and rhinoceros poaching, banning the sale of ivory in the US and destroying our stocks.
- In 2013, Obama gave a sweeping speech devoted to climate change and announced his plan to get around an obstructionist Congress. He directed the EPA to regulate carbon emissions from power plants, which produce 40% of US emissions; energy efficiency standards for a host of appliances, federal buildings and heavy duty trucks; doubled solar and wind on public lands; began regulating methane emissions from fracking; phasing out HFCs; an end to US funding for coal plants anywhere in the world through entities like the Ex-Im Bank. He promised to lead the world to bring us a climate treaty and help US communities prepare for the effects of climate change we can no longer prevent.
- Protected more land and water than any US president, such as the 408,000 square mile Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, the 500,000-acre Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in New Mexico, 346,200 acres in the San Gabriel Mountains near Los Angeles, plus 360,000 acres across the country. The most recent is 90,000 acres of Maine wilderness. He redefined National Ocean Policy, addressed illegal fishing and seafood fraud, and created a national pollinator protection strategy.
Meanwhile, the House voted against the environment 247 times, trying to roll back protections for public lands, clean air, clean water, or to enrich the oil industry.
Throughout his term, Obama tried to eliminate US fossil fuel subsidies, but got nowhere with Congress, even after publishing annual totals for the public to see. He also tried and failed to convince the G20 to set a deadline for that.
Beyond all the details of Obama’s many actions, he made the US a world leader on climate and renewable energy, so refreshing after eight years of George W. Bush. He changed the conversation toward science rather than corporate interests, and put us on a path to a green economy through breathtaking funding in the Recovery Act. All sectors of our economy knew the direction we were going in, and slowly but surely, most corporations got on board.
Now, all of this is in jeopardy. The people Trump puts in charge of the EPA, Department of Energy and Interior will likely work to take apart all of their predecessors’ good work on climate, energy and the environment. Going backwards isn’t easy once we’ve had a taste of progress.
Read our article, A Welcome Change: Obama’s 1st Year Environmental Record.
Rona Fried, Ph.D., is president of Sustainable Business.com, a thought leader on green business known for its daily news and Green Dream Jobs service since 1996.