New Hope for Change in Environmental, Energy, and Climate Policy

New hope for real change. The American promise lives.Let me be neither the first or last to say it: last night was a historic night for the nation and the world.

With the election of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States, there is new hope for positive and urgently needed change in federal policy for environmental protection, energy, and climate change.

Following is a brief outline of some significant reversals of policy from the Bush administration expected by president-elect Obama:


Under the new administration, the Energy Department will likely dramatically shift its focus to alternative and renewable energy development, with more support for wind and solar technology, cellulosic biofuels, and more fuel efficient cars (he may seek to raise CAFE standards from 35mpg to 40mpg while putting 1 million hybrid plug-in cars on the road by 2015). He seeks a low-carbon gasoline standard that would reduce carbon in gas 10% by 2020. 

Obama has called for a national energy standard for 10% of electricity from renewable sources by 2010 and 25% by 2025. He has also urged mandates for stricter efficiency codes for federal buildings and modernization of the power transmission grid.

Obama says he looks to spend up to $15 billion per year for renewable energy development and energy efficiency. Given the state of the economy, it remains to be seen whether this aggressive funding is possible. On the other hand such investment in the green economy is expected to spur the economy and create 5 million new jobs.

Obama has indicated he is not necessarily against nuclear power, though he is concerned about building dozens of nuclear plants without better accounting for the disposal of radioactive waste.

He has also said he will allow increased domestic oil and gas development (but continue to oppose drilling in ANWR) as well as investments in “clean coal” technology.


Barack Obama has proposed reducing greenhouse gases by 80% from 1990 levels by 2050, using a market-based cap-and-trade system.

Environmental Protection Agency

President-elect Obama has vowed to overturn the Bush administration ruling denying the waiver to allow California to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from vehicle tailpipes.

Obama has promised to turn the EPA back over to the scientists in the agency and “reverse the Bush administration’s attempt to chip away at our nation’s clean air and water standards.”

Obama may well pursue regulating greenhouse gas emissions under existing law, but is expected to place an emphasis on pushing Congress to pass legislation to limit emissions.

Department of Interior

Obama will abandon the efforts of George Bush these past eight years to overturn the ruling of president Clinton setting aside 58.5 million acres of national forestland as roadless areas.

He will stop attempts by the Bush administration to ignore Interior Dept. biologists’ advice when determining whether oil development, power plants, dams, and other projects harm endangered species.

Obama says he will seek to protect the nation’s forests and “repair the damage done to our national parks by inadequate funding.”

A difficult road ahead

There is no doubt that with all the new president faces, the road ahead will be difficult as he attempts to forge consensus and alliances to enact meaningful policy to address our growing energy, climate, and sustainability challenges. But after witnessing history take place last night, I will dare to believe that we have before us now the opportunity to meet those challenges.

But there is no time to waste, this is an opportunity that we must not squander.

Sources and further reading:
CNET GreenTech
AP – Where Obama stands on the issues
AP – Obama vows change, agency by agency
New York Times – Energy thinkers ponder the future




Thomas Schueneman
Thomas Schueneman
Tom is the founder and managing editor of and the PlanetWatch Group. His work appears in Triple Pundit, Slate, Cleantechnia, Planetsave, Earth911, and several other sustainability-focused publications. Tom is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.

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