Obama has made green go

Posted: May 19, 2009

The economy and foreign policy got much of the attention in early analyses of President Obama's administration, but one of the best measures of the administration's achievements may be the groundwork it's laid for an extraordinary environmental legacy.

In his first week in office, Obama directed the new Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Lisa Jackson, to reconsider a contentious Bush administration decision preventing 14 states from reducing global-warming pollution by cars and light trucks. Pennsylvania is one of those states, and if the EPA approves Pennsylvania's Clean Vehicles Program, we could save five billion gallons of gasoline and prevent more than 47 million tons of greenhouse-gas emissions by 2020.

The president's stimulus package also put into motion the single largest green funding initiative in American history, allocating nearly $80 billion to double America's renewable energy production, improve energy efficiency, and invest in green transportation, while creating 1.5 million green jobs.

Obama's budget incorporated $646 billion in revenues from capping global-warming pollution, while investing an additional $150 billion in renewable energy. His budget sets the stage for a new energy plan that addresses global warming and drives the transformation into a clean-energy economy.

If implemented, the president's budget proposal also means that Pennsylvania's ailing sewage-treatment plants could be eligible for $79 million in funding for upgrades to protect our water quality, which could accelerate the cleanup of nearly 100 Superfund sites.

Jackson also moved ahead with a finding that global-warming pollution poses a danger to public welfare. A final decision last month allows the EPA to speed the transition to a clean-energy economy and regulate the worst global-warming polluters.

There have been other quiet but important environmental victories. For example, the administration announced that it would reconsider the dubious practice of "mountaintop mining," in which companies blow the tops off mountains and dump the debris into nearby waterways. Obama also signed the largest expansion of protected wilderness in 15 years.

There is more work to do, such as setting a science-based global-warming-pollution cap, ensuring that polluters pay for their pollution, and investing in new technologies to allow industry to make necessary reductions. But Obama's environmental record is already a noteworthy victory.

David Masur is the director of PennEnvironment. Joseph Sestak is a Democratic congressman from Delaware County. For more information, see www.pennenvironment.org.

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