President Barack Obama has just wrapped up his first 100 days as President of the United States. Those days have been jam packed with countless efforts to stem the crises at hand; the economic meltdown, housing foreclosures, and the newest crisis to hit the newsstands, the Swine Flu. However, watching cable news, you’re more likely to catch an arbitrary grading scheme, meant to somehow evaluate the work he has done in only 7% of his allotted time in office (unless he wins a second term, which would mean he’s only completed 3.5% of his job).
Instead of useless chatter about expectations, it seems more essential to delve into the actual policy decisions Mr. Obama has made since his inauguration, with a keen eye on the environmental front. Listed below are the top 10 environmental policy changes that will affect the American populace most directly. (The website The Daily Green has a list of 100 actions taken by the Obama Whitehouse if you are interested.)
Home Energy Tax CreditsThe American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 instituted a broad range of tax credits and rebates that will help Americans save money on their utility bills, as well as make their homes and lives more sustainable. The Act offers tax credits up to 15% on certain qualified home improvements, like new windows, or insulation, with a cap at $1,500. But the Act also offers a 30% tax credit on higher priced items like solar panels, or fuel cells, and for these items, the cap has been lifted entirely. The Act allows consumers to pay less for items that will also lower their utility bills for the foreseeable future.
Vehicle Tax CreditsFor the first 200,000 buyers from each manufacturer of Hybrid Vehicles, consumers can see a $7,500 tax credit, making those machines much more affordable. The Act also grants a $2,500 tax credit for plug-in electric motorcycles.
Home Weatherization AssistanceWithin the ARRA are provisions that will assist lower-income families as well. These households may not be able to afford the items mentioned above, even with a tax credit. As a remedy for this, the ARRA includes $8 billion for home weatherization and energy improvements for low-income families. This comes out to around $6,500 for each family that is eligible.
The Organic GardenAlthough Mansanto may be a bit miffed by people moving back to personally sustainable agriculture, the Obamas don’t seem to mind. Recently, Mrs. Obama, with the help of local grade-schoolers, planted the first White House Organic Garden on the South Side of the White House lawn. The garden should be seen as motivation for the average American to grow their own vegetables and fruits, and to improve their diets. Only time will tell if anyone got the message.
Greenhouse Gases Deemed HazardousGone are the days when the President of the United States buries scientific data to further his religious and personal goals. The Obama Administration is moving quickly to combat some of the later Bush Environmental Initiatives that would have allowed the dumping of waste near rivers, and undermined further efforts to stem the effects of global warming. One of the key announcements thus far has been the admission that greenhouse gas pollution is a direct cause of the climate change we are now seeing. This sets the stage for the regulation of emissions from factories, as well as cars. Companies will now have to literally pay for the havoc they wreak on the environment.
Reducing Carbon Pollution occupies slots 6-9 on the list, as several steps have been taken to limit, and lower the carbon dioxide that is released into the atmosphere.
Reporting Chemical ReleasesThe EPA has reinstated strict laws on reporting toxic chemical releases. This requires companies that release potentially harmful chemicals to explain the contents of these chemicals, and to announce the types of toxins in the air and water near your home.
Lowered Mercury EmissionsCement is made in a kiln, or a high intensity oven, but these kilns are a major source of the mercury pollution in the air that we see today. The EPA has announced plans to lower these emissions, which cause toxic rain to fall in lakes and other bodies of water that harm the ecology of these places. The regulating of these emissions had been off the table up until this year.
Testing PesticidesAlthough pesticides are in widespread use on crops across the United States, their affect on the human endocrine system has not been examined. It has been noted that pesticides, either alone or in conjunction with other chemicals, may be linked to diabetes, developmental and learning problems, birth defects, and other serious ailments. We will now have a better understanding of the chemicals we are ingesting.
Studying Chemical CombinationsThe EPA has moved forward under the understanding that the chemicals Americans encounter on a daily basis are rarely ever in isolation. The effect of any one chemical on the body is largely irrelevant, as in most furniture, office equipment, and a lot of other things you use, the chemicals will interact with each other, both outside, and inside the body. The study that will look at these combinations will focus on the reasons small children have been disproportionally affected by toxic exposure.
The Presidential CabinetThe people Mr. Obama chose to work with on tackling environmental issues goes a long way toward identifying how hard he will work to improve our current situation. The Obama Administration is chock full of experts and environmental advocates who will not accept the status quo. Leading the charge is the head of the Department of Energy, Stephen Chu. This man is a Nobel-prize winning physicist, and an advocate for action on global warming. Mr. Chu is not alone, many positions have been filled by advocates for action, including Jane Lubchenko, head of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, Van Jones, as a special adviser to the President, and not to mention Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, who has been graded by the League of Conservation Voters as having voted for the environment 90% of the time.
There is still a lot to worry about, and these problems do not have a quick fix solution, however it is a breath of fresh air to see intelligent, rational people moving this country in a positive direction that is not influenced by stubborn ideology or mindless greed.