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Report Card
Environment News Service, January 20, 2010

Obama's One-Year Environmental Grades Range From 'B+' to 'C-'

WASHINGTON, DC, January 20, 2010 - One year after he was inaugurated with promises of "hope" and "change," President Barack Obama has earned only a grade of "C" for his handling of endangered species, climate, energy, public lands, and oceans from one conservation group but an overall grade of "B+" on climate and energy from another.

In a report card released Tuesday, the Center for Biological Diversity gave the President a grade of "C" saying, "While the Obama administration has not shown the ideological opposition to environmental protection of the previous administration and has taken a number of positive steps, it has fallen far short of delivering the promised change in overall environmental policies."

Among the positives are issuing a finding under the Clean Air Act that greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare and reinstating protection for millions of acres of roadless public lands.

Negatives include reducing protections for wolves and other endangered species and pursuing offshore oil development in polar bear habitat off Alaska. The Obama administration advanced a Bush initiative to remove protections for the gray wolf, and has only listed two new species as endangered, which is the fewest protected in the first year of any administration since President Ronald Reagan, who took office in 1981.

"The Obama administration has begun to steer the ship in the right direction," said Noah Greenwald, endangered species program director for the Center for Biological Diversity. "But it has failed to provide the strong leadership to get us on the course we need to be following to address the pressing problems of species extinction and global warming."

On the Center's report card, the Obama administration scored highest in the area of public lands protection - a "B+" for reinstating the Clinton-era Roadless Rule that protects 58 million acres from development and for withdrawl of the Bush-era Western Oregon Plan Revision, which would have allowed logging of tens of thousands of acres of old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest.

But the administration allowed the logging of roadless areas in Alaska to proceed.

On oceans, the administration received a "B-" from the Center based on its acknowledgment that ocean acidification is a serious threat and its initiation of a process for determining how to address the problem. However, the administration has also allowed oil drilling off Alaska and has weakened protection for endangered sea turtles from longline fisheries near Hawaii.

On climate and energy, the Center gave the administration a "C-" for positive steps such as issuing a finding under the Clean Air Act that greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare, setting the stage for greenhouse gas regulations under the Act.

The Center praised the administration's economic stimulus bill with billions of dollars of tax credits and subsidies for improving energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.

But the Center faults Obama for failing "to advance the greenhouse emissions reduction targets that scientists believe are necessary to avoid the worst impacts of global warming either in the legislation being considered by Congress or at the international climate talks in Copenhagen last December."

The administration also has continued to grant permits and leases for fossil fuel exploration and extraction, including mountaintop removal in Appalachia and the expansion of coal mining in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming.

The League of Conservation Voters issued its own climate and energy report card on Obama's first year, giving the President much higher marks.

LCV Director Gene Karpinski said, "In his first year in office, the President has turned words into action and achieved real results that are beginning to pave the way toward a clean energy economy that creates jobs, increases our energy independence and protects the planet."

"There is little doubt that President Obama has accomplished more to create clean energy jobs and curb global warming pollution during his first year than any other president has accomplished during an entire term," the LCV said in its evaluation. "However, the fact that a comprehensive clean energy and climate bill has not yet been signed into law means that he falls slightly short of acing his first year in office and results in a solid "B+" grade."

Among the highlights of President Obama's first year according to the League of Conservation are:

  • Playing a leadership role in the House of Representatives' passage of the American Clean Energy and Security Act, the first piece of legislation that established binding caps on U.S. greenhouse gas emissions ever to be approved by a chamber of Congress.

  • Granting California's waiver to impose stricter vehicle tailpipe emissions standards, and proposing nationwide emissions standards that will result in the equivalent of taking 32 million cars off the road.

  • Filling his cabinet and administration with environmental stewards, dedicated staff, scientists and experts, such as EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Energy Secretary Steven Chu and White House Director of Energy and Climate Change Policy Carol Browner - a "Green Dream Team."

  • Finding that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases pose a danger to public health and welfare, as determined by the Environmental Protection Agency after a rigorous scientific review.

  • Pushing for the single largest investment in clean energy in history - more than $80 billion for energy efficiency, renewable energy, public transit, high-speed rail and clean energy jobs in the economic recovery package.

  • Achieving modest but critical progress at the international climate negotiations in Copenhagen, including having the U.S. and China - for the first time - both at the table, working to address global climate change.
"While these are very significant accomplishments that will finally help our country make the much-needed transition to a cleaner, more sustainable economy," the LCV said, "there is still much work to be done."

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2010.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton