Barack Obama: The first ______ president.
Can we put the word "green" in that blank? Hard to say, so early. But we may be off to a pretty good start. When Obama was elected president, some environmentalists believed it signaled the dawning of a new, green era. Others pointed to his history with the coal lobby as a red flag. In fact, Obama's coal talk still worries some enviros.
Here are some environmental highlights from Obama's first 100 days as president:
President Obama has fended off economic concerns about his green policies by pointing out that in the end they will save money and create jobs. Here, he tours a factory that makes parts for wind turbines.
Obama introduced an environmental team that included a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, three members of President Clinton's EPA staff and a well-liked grassroots green organizer.
He also put Vice President Joe Biden in charge of the Middle Class Task Force, whose first objective was to investigate the creation of "green jobs" for the middle class.
Obama provided the opportunity for Chairman of the California Air Resources Board Mary Nichols to effectively set stricter fuel economy standards for the nation's cars.
And momentum from Obama's election and continued sweeping policy change emboldened legislators to write a climate bill even tougher than what Obama himself was pushing.
IT'S THE STUPID ECONOMY, STUPID
Was it over before it began? HuffPost's Sam Stein reported way back in November on an issue that environmentalists just hate: the false notion that going green means going broke. Enviros worried soon after Obama was elected that he'd get so caught up in repairing the economy left in shambles by the previous administration that he'd forget about the environment and energy infrastructure left in shambles by the previous administration.
So what happened? Obama stepped up to the plate and faced the chin music.
In his first press conference, he devoted time to defending energy spending. And he's continued to defend the easy stuff that critics have made fun of: spending money on weatherization and retrofitting. Remember Obama's tire gauges? He's defended that, too. It turns out that science (with facts) has shown that weatherization and proper inflation of tires can save the nation a pretty penny, so he's taking it seriously.
While sometimes it seems that Obama's environmental goals suffer at the hands of the economy, the president insists that bringing the United States up to speed on energy technology and infrastructure is not negotiable and that, among other things, a "green stimulus" would include spending for a vitally important smart grid. Obama also created a Middle Class Task Force, headed up by Vice President Joe Biden. Its first objective was to investigate creating more green-collar jobs for the middle class.
HAVE TEAM, WILL CHANGE
In striving to create what you'd call "change," the Obama administration found the environment to have a pretty low bar. How low? It was headline news when new EPA administrator Lisa Jackson said that science would be a major consideration when determining environmental policy. Really. The U.N. was stunned.
Suddenly, the U.S. was interested in taking action against things that poison people and the planet, like mercury, and even labeling carbon emissions as harmful to public welfare -- a move whose implications will be widespread. (Like, "Hey Ya" widespread.)
A Nobel laureate physicist and three EPA staffers from the Clinton administration rounded out Obama's green team picks, plus a guy from rural Colorado in a bolo tie and cowboy hat. You know, that guy might just have a thing for mountains.
The cherry on top for some grassroots environmentalists was Van Jones being appointed to a spot advising on green jobs.
Obama is said to prefer his staff choices to form a team of rivals. With his green team, he hit that dead on. The New York Times reported that members of Obama's cabinet had been dueling over environmental issues since 1997.
On one toxic issue, the president has stepped aside -- to allow someone else to enact faster change. Environmentalists have long called for stricter standards on cars, and while Obama may not have been able to do anything at the federal level with Congress trying to figure out if and how to save the U.S. auto industry, he knew who could: California.
So Obama decided to let states determine their own stricter emissions standards. The upshot was that if California, a very large, environmentally-aware (and yet car-obsessive) state were to set high fuel economy standards, major automakers would have no choice but to cater to the needs of that state's residents. (Or maybe it could limply fight back.)
Of course, when you do things like that, you risk getting the middle of the country a bit steamed.
And when the executive branch isn't enough, Obama's action -- and perhaps the winds of change -- have freed up legislators to do things like drafting a bold climate bill tougher even than what Obama outlined in various campaign promises.
NOT SWEATING THE SMALL STUFF
He drinks bottled water and he keeps the thermostat up. What can you do? He's not quite shaping up to be the green living role model that his wife is. Though they did both go out and plant trees with former President Bill Clinton recently.
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