Science, Tech & Environment

President Obama's green report card

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President Obama signs the stimulus bill into law, directing nearly $80 billion to clean energy, the environment and science. (Photo by Pete Souza, the White House)

The auto industry's just one area where President Obama has tried to steer energy, the environment and the economy together during his first hundred days in office. To get an idea of what's happened in those hundred days, consider just one day: Monday, April 27th:

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On that day, the Environmental Protection Agency indicated it will toughen rules on pollution from power plants. The Interior Department reversed rules that let mountaintop removal coal mines dump waste near streams. And Obama's Secretary of State said the US was ready to lead the way to a global warming agreement.

All in just one day -- and a Monday at that.

This president who stressed "the fierce urgency of now" on the campaign trail has wasted no time. His first major legislative achievement, the economic stimulus package, put tens of billions of dollars toward clean energy. Obama told workers at an Iowa wind turbine facility that he's made more progress in three months than the country has seen in three decades.

President Obama: "We're beginning to break the bonds, the grip, that fossil fuels has on us. We're beginning to create a new, clean-energy economy -- and the millions of jobs that will flow from it."

President Obama assembled an environmental team that has won high praise from the scientific community. And Team Obama has overturned Bush-era decisions on energy, endangered species and land management.

President Obama's Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar, put the Republican plan for offshore drilling on hold and revoked some controversial drilling permits: "We revisited the decision to offer areas in Utah near Arches and Canyonland National Parks for oil and gas drilling and I'm proud of that decision."

But despite this early burst of activity, there are still doubts about whether the course the administration is setting will meet the tremendous challenges.

As chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Nancy Sutley is the president's top environmental policy adviser. Sutley says she's pleased with the administration's early progress: "We got off to a pretty fast start, starting really with the President's first week when he asked EPA and the Department of Transportation to go back and look at whether our automobile efficiency standards were good enough, but also things like energizing the EPA by increasing its funding to its largest budget in its history, to put EPA back to work to protecting the American peoples, and the really historic levels of investment in clean energy and growing the green economy and creating green jobs – that's part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. It really is the largest investment in clean energy the United States has ever made. So, I would feel safe in saying that this administration has gotten off to the fastest and most comprehensive start on dealing with the really important issues related to energy, climate change and the environment that any administration has."

Sutley says the stimulus money is funding green jobs: "Well, I think there's a broad spectrum of things that come under green jobs, but the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act really does have money going out the door quickly to fund some programs that we know work, things like low income weatherization, things like investing in research and development for things like smart grid that's already going out the door. Those investments are green jobs."

She accesses the administration's first 100 days: "I think we've made a lot of progress. The Recover Act gives us a good template to work from and those funds, you know, really is to grow this sector of the economy, but also to really address the peril that global warming is putting our planet into. The U.S. was sort of missing in action for the last eight years, so things like the President showing leadership at the international level, the State Department is hosting this major economies forum, it's a way to get to the largest economies of the world who also happen to be the largest greenhouse gas emitters talking to each other in anticipation of Copenhagen. So there's been a lot going on in climate change."

Public support, according to Sutley, is there: "I think the American people are hopeful and optimistic about the ability to run our economy more sustainably, to create millions of jobs that can't be exported overseas. We're running the risk of falling behind on things like manufacturing renewable energy products and so I think there's a sense of hopefulness that this new green economy and that this investment in clean energy will produce real benefits for the American economy, and I think people understand that."

Hosted by Steve Curwood, "Living on Earth" is an award-winning environmental news program that delves into the leading issues affecting the world we inhabit. More "Living on Earth."