Green Legislation – Obama Administration

To date, the U.S. Congress has submitted zero green legislation to President Obama for his signature but he has not been idle on the environmental front.

Beginning with President John Adams, each U.S. president inherits the work of his or her predecessors, the legislation signed into law, proclamations made, executive orders issued, memorandums written, and the state of the union.

President Barack Obama - Official White House Portrait Photo: Pete Souza 2012-12-06
President Barack Obama – Official White House Portrait Photo: Pete Souza 2012-12-06

In 2009, Barack Obama became the 44th President of the United States taking the helm of the country during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

Although tackling environmental issues was probably on the new President’s mind, it was not his top priority and it was not even on the U.S. Congress’ to-do list

However, President Obama has made use of the legacy provided by former Presidents and Congresses and exercised his powers as the Chief Executive of the United States to address environmental issues and climate change.

We will look at a few examples in this post.

Protecting and Preserving Public Lands and Waters

The U.S. Congress may set aside land and water for protection and conservation for the good of the public and future generations and so may the President.

The Antiquities Act of 1906 includes a provision authorizing the President to protect and preserve landmarks, structures, and objects of historic or scientific interest on federal land by declaring them national monuments. Ever since President Theodore Roosevelt signed the bill into law, most Presidents, including Roosevelt, have exercised their authority to declare national monuments via presidential proclamation.

To date, President Obama has designated 16 national monuments including Rio Grande del Norte, San Juan Islands, Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks, San Gabriel Mountains, and Browns Canyon as well as Fort Monroe and the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad.

Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, NM - Photo: Oscar Simpson via ConservAmerica
Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, NM – Photo: Oscar Simpson via ConservAmerica

Greening the United States Federal Government

Although not specifically called out in the U.S. Constitution, every President including George Washington has utilized proclamations and executive orders to direct and influence the business of the U.S. government.

The federal government is the largest employer, landholder, and building occupier, and operates the largest land, air, and water vehicle fleet in the United States. This places the U.S. government in a unique position and provides federal agencies with an opportunity to lead by example and address climate change on a wide scale.

Apparently, President Obama believes this too. He has issued environmental and climate change related executive orders and memorandums throughout his presidency.

For instance, President Obama issued Executive Order 13514 – Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance on October 5, 2009, directing all federal agencies to lead the country towards a clean energy economy and reduce greenhouse gases by greening their own operations.

This means increasing energy efficiency, using renewable energy, reducing fossil fuel use, conserving water, eliminating waste, recycling, purchasing environmentally preferable materials, products, and services; operating energy efficient vehicles and high-performance sustainable buildings.

For the first time ever, federal agencies are now required to track their greenhouse gas emissions, establish reduction targets, and report on their progress.

Greening the federal government means the White House too. Installing solar panels on the White House residence roof in 2013 set a good example.

National Dialogue on Climate Change

Other U.S. presidents have talked about climate change related topics like renewable energy or resilient infrastructure, but President Obama made climate change part of our national dialogue. It began with one sentence during his first inaugural address.

“We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories.”

President Barack Obama, Inaugural Address, January 20, 2009

Now, six years later, the President regularly discusses climate change alongside the economy, health care, education, social security, and foreign policy. Below is an excerpt from his State of the Union speech on January 20, 2015.

“Now, I’ve heard some folks try to dodge the evidence by saying they’re not scientists, that we don’t have enough information to act. Well, I’m not a scientist, either. But you know what, I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA and at NOAA and at our major universities. And the best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we don’t act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration and conflict and hunger around the globe. The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. We should act like it.

And that’s why, over the past 6 years, we’ve done more than ever to combat climate change, from the way we produce energy to the way we use it. That’s why we’ve set aside more public lands and waters than any administration in history. And that’s why I will not let this Congress endanger the health of our children by turning back the clock on our efforts. I am determined to make sure that American leadership drives international action.

In Beijing, we made a historic announcement: The United States will double the pace at which we cut carbon pollution. And China committed, for the first time, to limiting their emissions. And because the world’s two largest economies came together, other nations are now stepping up and offering hope that this year the world will finally reach an agreement to protect the one planet we’ve got.”

President Barack Obama, State of the Union Speech, January 20, 2015

Climate change is out in the open now.

With two years remaining in his final term, President Obama and Congress may yet come together and enact green legislation to protect the planet for our children and future generations. Regardless, I believe President Obama will continue to exercise his executive authority and will move the ball forward on climate change.

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March For Real Climate Leadership – Don’t Frack California

8,000 Californians came together in Oakland, CA on Saturday to exercise our First Amendment rights and demand a clean renewable energy future for California.

March For Real Climate Leadership in Oakland, CA - February 7, 2015 - Photo: Greenpeace USA via Twitter
March For Real Climate Leadership in Oakland, CA – February 7, 2015

After peaceably assembling at Frank Ogawa / Oscar Grant Plaza, we walked about two miles to the Lake Merritt Amphitheater carrying signs, posters, and flags while exercising our freedom of speech by shouting anti-fracking slogans, playing music, singing, talking to the press, and chatting with our fellow demonstrators. We reassembled peaceably at the amphitheater, enjoyed a brief rain shower, and listened to speakers from across the state talk about how fracking is affecting their communities right now.

People Gathering before March For Real Climate Leadership - February 7, 2015
People Gathering before March For Real Climate Leadership – February 7, 2015

We peaceably dispersed, some boarding buses to head for home, some going in search of food, and others attending the convergence at Laney College to talk more in depth about organizing campaigns to ban fracking locally, regionally, and statewide.

I was heartened to see the diversity of people participating in the march, people of all ages, skin hues, occupations, and religious beliefs, united by the desire to end fracking in California and ensure everyone has clean water to drink and clean air to breathe.

The photo below captured two of my favorite signs, “Caution Children Still Alive, Go Renewable” and “Water-Drinkers Against Fracking.”

People Carrying Signs and Posters during March For Real Climate Leadership - February 7, 2015
People Carrying Signs and Posters during March For Real Climate Leadership – February 7, 2015

The March For Real Climate Leadership was reported to have been the largest anti-fracking demonstration in U.S. history…so far.

March For Real Climate Leadership – San Luis Obispo County Contingent

One of the most surprising things about the event was that I was actually there. I am perhaps one of the shyest people in San Luis Obispo County, not fond of crowds, and am definitely not a morning person eager to jump out of bed a 4:30 a.m. The word activist does not describe me.

However, I am passionate about doing whatever it takes to ensure my children and everyone else’s children have a habitable planet to live on in the future. This means undertaking activities outside my comfort zone like composting (I do not like creepy crawlies) and participating in public demonstrations.

When an email from hit my inbox with a notice about the March For Real Climate Leadership I thought, “Maybe we should go.” My spouse agreed, immediately signed us up, and then volunteered to bring coffee and pastries for the bus ride to Oakland.

San Luis Obispo County Contingent at March For Real Climate Leadership - February 7, 2015
San Luis Obispo County Contingent at March For Real Climate Leadership – February 7, 2015

SLO Clean Water Action spearheaded organizing a bus for the San Luis Obispo County contingent aided by several other energetic people. It was pouring rain in San Luis Obispo when the bus pulled out at 6:30 a.m. We picked up a few more people in Atascadero and headed to Oakland with about 40 people on board, including many college students and a young boy who had been inspired by Mr. Eco visiting his school.

After a trip of about 4 hours, we arrived in Oakland and were greeted by an enthusiastic volunteer who gave us the logistics run down. We took a group photo and scattered to watch the pre-march press conference and other activities.

As I was wishing I had made a sign to bring, a young woman walked by and pointed across the plaza to a collection of signs made by a group of artistic volunteers. We walked over and I selected a sign mounted on a wooden pole that I thought I could carry for several hours. Hefting the sign and waving it about made we feel like an activist and I ended up bringing the sign home on the bus to display in our yard.

We met a delightful woman on the bus and the three us spent the day together carrying our signs and chanting anti-fracking slogans during the march, searching out a Cambodian restaurant for a delicious afternoon meal, and looking in on the convergence. We made it to the rendezvous point on time, boarded the bus, and headed for San Luis Obispo about 6:00 p.m.

My spouse and I arrived home tired but happy at about 11:00 p.m. with three left over bananas, a few extra granola bars, and a souvenir sign.

It was an exhilarating and exhausting day.

See you next time.

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