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US Environmental Policy-Achievements and Disappointments in 2011

The past three years have been a tumultuous time for America. In 2008, millions were full of hope that the Obama administration would make the drastic changes needed to get our country back on course. Then the bottom fell out of the housing market, banks folded, and the unstable credit industry was exposed.

This economic collapse scared Americans, and despite the fact that many of the Obama administration's proposed environmental policies would have created jobs, increased domestic energy production, and bolstered the economy, they were scorned as attempts to stifle industrial growth and increase the financial burden on those already struggling.

Here's a look at some of the goals set at the beginning of this administration and what has been accomplished so far.


Goal: Reduction of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 through a cap-and-trade system that would auction off 100 percent of emissions permits, making polluters pay for the CO2 they emit.

In early 2009, Obama indeed brought a Cap and Trade Bill before Congress. However, entrenched industrial complex was ready for the fight, saying that it was a very expensive plan to take profit away from coal-powered states in the middle of the country and give it to coastal states with more potential for utilizing clean energy. Although a stripped down version of the Cap and Trade Bill was passed by the House of Representatives in 2009, it was killed in the Senate in 2010.


Goal: Phase out of incandescent light bulbs by 2014.

In fact, the phase out of inefficient incandescent light bulbs was mandated before Obama even took office. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 stated that all general-purpose light bulbs would have to be 30 percent more energy efficient than incandescent bulbs by 2014. The efficiency standards will start with 100-watt bulbs in January 2012 and end with 40-watt bulbs in January 2014.


Goal: Twenty-five percent of U.S. electricity to come from renewable sources by 2025, and for 30 percent of the federal government's electricity to come from renewables by 2020.

Like the eight presidents to come before him, Obama campaigned on a platform of reducing American reliance on oil, especially foreign oil. In 2010, U.S. consumption of foreign oil fell below 50 percent for the first time since 1997. However this is mainly due to the dramatic increased in domestic oil production and the dangerous extraction of natural gas through hydraulic fracturing.

However, the Obama administration did increase investment in clean energy companies, and approved the country's first-ever offshore wind farm. The administration also approved the construction of 13 commercial-scale solar facilities on public lands that are expected to power nearly 1.5 million homes and create 8,600 jobs.


Goal: Restore the force of the Clean Air Act and fight for continued reductions in smog and soot, and other toxins that contribute to air pollution.

Under President Obama's watch, the Environmental Protection Agency has set up the first national standards for mercury emissions and other dangerous chemicals from coal and oil-fired power plants. The new rules will help to clear our skies of pollutants that can make health problems like asthma and bronchitis worse, saving up to 17,000 lives each year.

But in September 2011, President Obama decided not to raise federal ozone standards for air pollution, causing a rift with environmentalists but winning praise from industry groups and congressional Republicans.


Reviewing these and other environmental policies gives one the distinct feeling that our country is taking one step forward only to take two steps back. The encouraging news is that while our elected officials in Congress may be too bogged down by Wall Street money to take action on behalf of the environment, state governments are forging ahead to protect their citizens.

States like California, which recently passed its own cap and trade legislation, Colorado, which already produces 6 percent of its electricity needs from renewable source, and Washington, which generates over 75 percent of its electricity with hydropower, are leading the way and proving that environmental policy is not the enemy of economic success.

Beth Buczynski is a freelance copy writer and environmental blogger. She holds a Master's in Public Communication and Technology with specialization in Environmental Communication from Colorado State University, and is passionate about leaving this planet in better shape than she found it.


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