What Environmental Initiatives has President Obama Sponsored in his Second Term?
Recent Initiatives in the Environmental Policy of the United States of America
Term Paper (Advanced seminar) 2015 35 Pages
1. Preface: Do big problems like terrorism detract from environmental policy?
1.1 Are US-citizens actually interested in green policy?
1.2 Overview of Obama’s self-concept and fulfilled aims in his first term
2. Structures of the environmental policy in the USA
2.1 Different official institutions, their competences and resulting collisions
2.2 Overview of varieties of environmental policies
3. Selected examples for Obama’s environmental policy in his 2nd term
3.1 Initiatives in the energy and climate policy
3.2 Initiatives to protect landscape
3.3 Initiatives to protect animals
3.5 Science and distribution of information
3.6 Problems and challenges
4. Conclusion: Obama is going green. Will the U.S. follow?
4.1 No, the U.S. will not follow, if…
4.2 Yes, the U.S. will follow, if…
5.3.1 Literature and printed sources
5.3.2 Internet sources
5.3.3 Pictures and statistics p. 30
1. Preface: Do big problems like terrorism detract from environmental policy?
Since President Barack Obama is in office, it seems that environmental policy became an important value in the U.S.-politics. After his election in 2008—he promised “change” in his campaign—many things truly changed. “Environmentalists strongly criticized the Bush White House for its reluctance to tackle global climate change, its misuse or disregard of science, and for environmental protection and natural resource policies that strongly favored economic development over public health and resource conservation.”1 Since President Georg W. Bush obviously did not care too much for the environmental policy, his successors in office have a lot of work to do. For instance, Obama has to reduce the CO2-emissions and to support renewable energy projects like solar energy electric power stations to keep up with the rest of the world. However, most of the time, President Obama had to deal with threatening and tough topics as unemployment, health insurance and worldwide terrorism—in his first term as well as in his second one.
This term paper deals with Obama's second term and analyses the steps taken in the environmental politics since his re-election. As an introduction, we will have a closer look at the problems in the U.S.-politics since 2012.
Recently many issues arose in US foreign politics: Ebola, the end of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the continuous fight against terrorism, e.g. the Islamic State terrorists in Syria, Putin’s annexation of the Crimea und the conflict in the Ukraine—and even international environmental policy as for example the agreement between the U.S. and China, on what we will have a closer look later. Repeatedly the USA are asking themselves if they are an Atlantic power or a Pacific power—or still a world power.
And as these international challenges weren’t enough, the domestic policy was to some extent a battlefield. For example, the introduction of a health care system brought many difficulties with it like crashed official web pages and the never-ending discussion between Democrats and Republicans about the whole topic. “In addition, all three cabinet-level agencies that address climate change and energy—the Interior and Energy Departments and the Environmental Protection Agency—[…] have new leaders for the second term.”2
Regarding all these topics and difficulties: Was there enough time to deal with environmental politics?
President Obama has to act in urgent and current issues as terrorism and unemployment, but also in long-term challenges as environment and sustainable development. In his speech at the Climate Summit in New York on 23 September 2014, Obama said:
“For all the immediate challenges that we gather to address this week—terrorism, instability, inequality, disease—there’s one issue that will define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other, and that is the urgent and growing threat of a changing climate.”3
Obama seems to realize how important it is to act now in order to stop the climate change and therefore protect the world for the next generations. But as a President is not representing the whole nation, there is another question coming up:
1.1 Are U.S. citizens actually interested in green policy?
To answer this question we need to take a look at others first: Do the U. S. citizens believe in climate change? And if they do so, what is the reason for the global warming?
Obviously, there is a big gap between Democrats and Republicans concerning the thinking about global warming and the believe in climate change, as shown in figure 1. More than 60 percent of the Obama and swing voters in 2012 see human actions as the main cause for global warming, compared to about 50 percent of Republican voters who believe that global warming is a natural phenomenon. A quite interesting fact is that about ten percent of the Obama voters as well as Mitt Romney voters deny global warming. The biggest part of these deniers was under the undecided voters.
Nevertheless, most of the American voters believe that climate change is existing and - consequently - support candidates, who want to stop global warming.4 “In particular, polls show that majorities of Hispanics, young people and unmarried women—the voters who were central to Mr. Obama’s victories in 2008 and 2012—support candidates who back climate change policy.”5 President Obama obviously knows about this fact. Therefore, in his second Inaugural Address in January 2013, he emphasized the importance of cohesion to fight against global warming:
“We the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms.”6
Although a small part of the U.S. citizens deny the climate change—that does not fall into account. Those who believe in global warming, but do not act against it, are the challenge. “As he began his second term, President Obama made clear that ‘climate change’ was no longer unmentionable and, in fact, would become a policy priority.”7 As figure 2 shows, most Americans believe that global warming affects the USA in many ways. The majority also says that electricity won by sunlight is better than electricity from coal burning.
But Obama’s antagonists, Republicans and first and foremost Tea Party politicians, argue, that cutǦ ting the greenhouse gas emissions and changing the energy sources from coal to sun will cost jobs and reduce the GDP.8 Obama refuted this criticism, as we will discuss in the following parts of the paper. But nevertheless, “[iȐn the 2010s, it is common to see a sharp ideological and partisan conǦ flict on the environment, particularly at the national level, a change that most analysts attribute to a strong rightward move on the part of the Republican Party. The divide is especially prominent on climate change issues.”9
So on the one hand, President Obama gets no support from one part of the U.S. citizens, especially Republican supporters. On the other hand, it seems that many people in the USA back him as the example of the expansion of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument shows:
“More than 135,000 U.S. citizens have sent letters of support for the proposed expansion, as have more than one million people from around the world, according to environmental organizations that tracked the submissions. More than 200 scientists who have worked in the region signed a letter of support, as have more than 40 national environmental groups and foundations, 30 Hawaii-based nonprofits, and 35 Hawaii-based businesses, including water sports outfitters.”10
One reason for Obama getting more support from the citizenship might be the first impacts of global warming, for example Superstorm Sandy, which cost $ 65 Billion, or droughts and heatwaves that cost $ 30 Billion in 2012.11 Furthermore, the awareness of the Americans might be increasing, because “[eȐvery year, these disasters result in over 60 000 deaths, mainly in develop- ing countries.”12
To some extent it may seem that people act only if they fear the consequences. The more people die, the more people act.
1.2. Overview of Obama’s self-concept and fulfilled aims in his first term
“The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition, we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries, we must claim its promise. That’s how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure - our forests and waterways, our croplands and snow-capped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.”13
As you can see, in his second Inaugural Address, President Obama declared how important the fight against the climate change is to him. He does not want to play an underpart in the worldwide rethinking. Obama wants to lead the transition from a coal-burning, sooty, dusty industrial nation to a green, sustainable, healthy one. Therefore, he often consults scientists, who are dealing with energy, health and environment—and supports many research programs, what was demanded for a long time. “The Obama’s administration willingness to invest billions of dollars on energy research, particularly for renewable sources on which spending had been minimal during much of the 2000s”14, shows how important it is to Obama to contain global warming.
Moreover, the argument, that the economy would be shrinking, if the USA are embanking the CO2emmissions has been proven wrong by Obama, as figure 3 shows.
Since President Obama came in office for the first time in 2009, the economy was growing (after the worldwide financial crisis) and at the same time, the CO2-emissions were shrinking.
When Obama’s precursor, George W. Bush, was in office, between 467 (in the year 2000) and 393 (2008) metric tons of carbon dioxide were refused to get $ 1 million of the GDP. Since Obama is in office, it went down from 376 (2009) to 343 (2013) metric tons of carbon dioxide per $ 1 million GDP.15
Obviously, President Obama attaches importance to economic aims while he is dealing with environmental policy. “The new direction in environmental policy also was clear in Obama’s massive economic stimulus package, which Congress approved in February 2009. It included tons of bil- lions of dollars for energy efficiency, research and development of renewable energy sources, and support of mass transit, among other actions.”16
Although there were some actions taken in Obama’s first term, that were criticized by his, as the forcing of fracking, there were quite a lot of positive changes in the environmental policy as the following examples show:
- 2009: Obama convened the Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force, which should report, how the Government could be better prepared for the climate change. The Council on Climate Preparedness and Resilience replaced the Task Force in 2013.17
- 2009: Obama’s Executive Order 13514 „Federal Leadership in environmental, energy and economic performance”: “In order to create a clean energy economy that will inǦ crease our Nation's prosperity, promote energy security, protect the interests of taxpayers, and safeguard the health of our environment, the Federal Government must lead by example.”18
- 2011: In order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions caused by burning fuels in the motors of vehicles, President Obama announced on July 29, 2011 new standards that cover cars and light truck, produced between 2017 and 2025. This program should stint six billion metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution until 2025.19
- As already mentioned, one big aim of the Recovery Act to fight the economic crisis was, to take care of the environment. “In the beginning of his Administration, President Obama set a goal of doubling U.S. renewable energy generation capacity from wind, solar, and geothermal by 2012. This was a bold goal - to install as much renewables in the next three years as the U.S. had in the previous thirty.”20 The U.S. solar energy industry did install 1,855 megawatts of photovoltaic capacity in 2011 alone. Thanks to the Section 1603 Pay- ments-In-Lieu-Of-Tax-Credits program the number of megawatts produced by solar pan- els could be doubled (2010: 887 megawatts), what was enough power for more than 370,000 homes.21
These examples are not just concerning Obama’s first term as President of the United States of America. The impacts of these actions are extending also in his second term and probably even further, that depends on how his followers will act in the future.
2. Structures of the environmental policy in the USA
The first part of the paper gave an overview of President Obama's self-concept and his initiatives in his first term. In his second term, Obama uses his executive power to continue his policies to further enhance the protection of the environment. The reason therefore: The responsibilities and possibilities concerning the environmental law and protection are quite obscure. In order to be able to do that, he is required to set the responsibilities and competencies of the different department straight.
2.1 Different official institutions, their competences and resulting collisions
As we are talking about the environmental policy by the Federal Government, we will fade out the environmental law and offices in the different states. While Washington sets the guidelines in environmental policy, the States implement and enforce the rules and control the day-to-day business.22 This paper is concentrating on the guidelines set by the Federal Government.
“Many policy actors play a role in policy formulation. They include environmental and business groups, think tank policy analysts, and policymakers and their staffs in legislatures and executive offices (of the president, governors, county executives, mayors, and city managers).”23 The following figures 4 and 5, overview of the executive branch agencies with environmental responsibilities and the legislative branch, show how many authorities and committees are involved in the environmental politics of the USA. Due to the split of the big topic environmental protection, there are some overlaps. In other countries, like Germany, there is only one Department in charge of environmental protection. This might be an easier way to handle this topic, although these departments have to correspond with other departments (finances, foreign affairs) as well.
As shown in figure 4, there are different Congress-committees involved, as for example commit- tees of agriculture, energy and commerce, natural resources and science and transportation. Both, the Senate as well as the House of Representatives, have their own committees.
Figure 5 shows the Executive Agencies that implement the laws made by the Congress. Some of these federal agencies released Climate Action Adaptation Plans in February 2013. The Department of Transportation develops guidelines, how extreme weather and climate change impact coastal highway projects should be responded.24 “[AȐnd the Department of Homeland Security is evaluating the challenges of changing conditions in the Arctic and along [the U.S.’sȐ borders.”
However, what must not be forgotten, the President of the United States can also act by Executive Order without the Congress. And President Obama does not seem to be satisfied with his Congress at all. In his State of the Union Address in January 2013, he said:
“[FȐ or the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change. […Ȑ [IȐf Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.”
To act by Executive Order seems to be the only chance for Obama to follow his agenda, since the Congress is in the hands of the Republicans. This situation will be further discussed and analysed in chapter 3.7 "Problems and challenges".
Due to these circumstances, there is another institution that acts in the U.S. environmental policy: the courts. “Even the courts get involved as they attempt to resolve environmental disputes by issuing legally binding policy decisions. Given the technical nature of policy action on climate change, protection of biodiversity, or pollution control, it is not surprising that the scientific community (both within and outside of government agencies) is often important as well, even if not as active as many scientists would like to see.”27 Yet, there is a discussion in the U.S., as well as in European states, whether scientists should have a big influence on political and democratic decisions. “Some theorists worry that such specialists may dominate the policymaking process, creatǦ ing a kind of technocratic decision making that can drive out democracy.”28 But one big problem, many democratic countries in the world have to deal with, is: “The general public usually has little interest in the issues, so its political influence is often minimal.”29
1 Kraft, Michael E.: Environmental Policy and Politics. University of Wisconsin, Green Bay: Pearson, 2014, 6th edition (following: Kraft, Michael: Environmental Policy and Politics), p. viii.
2 Broder, John M.: Slow Start on Environment in Second Obama Term. In: New York Times. URL: http://www.ny-
times.com/2013/04/25/business/energy-environment/slow-start-on-environment-in-obamas-2nd-term.html. Accessed on 01/03/2015.
3 URL: http://genius.com/President-barack-obama-climate-summit-2014-speech-annotated#note-4093087. Accessed on 01/03/2015.
4 See Davenport, Coral: In Climate Deal with China, Obama may set 2016 Theme. In: New York Times. URL: http://nyti.ms/1EwlOjp. Accessed on 11/13/2014.
6: Executive Office of the President. The President’s Climate ction Plan͘ 2012͘ URL: http://www͘whitehouse͘gov/sites/de- fault/files/image/president27sclimateactionplan.pdf. p. 4. Accessed on 11/27/2014. (following: Executive Office of the President͘ The President’s Climate ction Plan)
7 Gerrard, Michael B͘ and Welton, Shelley: US Federal Climate Change Law in Obama’s Second Term͘ In: Transnational Environmental Law, February 2014, Cambridge Press, 2014. p. 1.
8 See Davenport, Coral: In Climate Deal with China, Obama may set 2016 Theme. URL: http://nyti.ms/1EwlOjp. Accessed on 11/13/2014.
9 Kraft, Michael E.: Environmental Policy and Politics, p. 70.
10 Howard, Brian Clark: Conservationists spar with fishermen over world’s largest marine monument͘ URL: http://news͘na- tionalgeographic.com/news/2014/09/140920-pacific-remote-islands-marine-monument-ocean-conservation/. Accessed on 11/27/2014.
11 See Climate Change and President Obama’s action plan͘ Graphics package by the U͘S͘ Government͘ URL:
http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/climate_change_report_62513_final_0.jpg. Accessed on 11/30/2014.
12 World Health Organization: Climate change and health. Fact sheet N°266, August 2014. URL: http://www.who.int/media- centre/factsheets/fs266/en/#. Accessed on 12/16/2014.
13 Executive Office of the President. The President’s Climate ction Plan, p͘4͘
14 Kraft, Michael E.: Environmental Policy and Politics, p. 9f.
15 See U.S. Energy Information Administration. URL: http://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/carbon/. Accessed on 01/03/2015.
16 Kraft, Michael E.: Environmental Policy and Politics, p. viii.
17 See United States Environmental Protection Agency: Federal and EPA Adaption Programs. URL: http://www.epa.gov/cli- matechange/impacts-adaptation/fed-programs.html. Accessed on 01/03/2015.
18 Obama, Barack: Executive Order 13514 „Federal Leadership in environmental, energy and economic performance”͘ URL: http://www.whitehouse.gov/assets/documents/2009fedleader_eo_rel.pdf. Accessed on 01/03/2015.
19 The White House. URL: http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/fuel_economy_report.pdf. Accessed on 01/03/2015.
20 The White House: The Recovery Act. URL: http://www.whitehouse.gov/recovery/innovations/clean-renewable-energy. Accessed on 01/03/2014.
21 See Solar Energy Industries Association: New Report Finds U.S. Solar Energy Installations Soared by 109% in 2011 to 1,855 Megawatts. URL: http://www.seia.org/news/new-report-finds-us-solar-energy-installations-soared-109-2011-1855-mega- watts. Accessed on 01/03/2014.
22 Kraft, Michael E.: Environmental Policy and Politics, p. 82.
23 Ibd., p. 78 f.
24 See Executive Office of the President͘ The President’s Climate ction Plan, p͘ 12͘
26 The White House, Office of the Press Secretary: “Remarks by the President in the State of the Union ddress”, URL: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/02/12/remarks-president-state-union-address. Accessed on 01/08/2015.
27 Kraft, Michael E.: Environmental Policy and Politics, p. 79.
29 Ibd, p. 18.