Continuing Clean Energy Progress in President Obama’s Second Term

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When President Barack Obama took office in January 2009, there was a long list of incomplete or ignored clean energy and public health measures from the George W. Bush administration. A month earlier, during President-elect Obama’s transition, the Center for American Progress identified the “Top 10 Energy and Environment Priorities for the Obama Administration and the 111th Congress.” Earlier this year, we determined that the administration had accomplished nearly all of these goals despite facing the worst economy in nearly 80 years and strong opposition from Big Oil, coal, and other energy interests.

The reduction of industrial carbon pollution responsible for climate change, however, is the biggest unfinished item from the president’s first term. In December 2012 President Obama acknowledged this, telling Time magazine that his “primary focus is going to continue to be on the economy, on immigration, on climate change and energy.” The urgency to address climate change was reinforced with the release on January 11, 2013, of the draft National Climate Assessment, a comprehensive analysis of the effects of climate change in the United States. This work, which includes the findings of hundreds of scientists, concluded that:

Climate change is already affecting the American people. Certain types of weather events have become more frequent and/or intense, including heat waves, heavy downpours, and, in some regions, floods and droughts. … these changes are part of the pattern of global climate change, which is primarily driven by human activity.

Many of the top energy and environmental priorities for President Obama’s second term, therefore, should reduce industrial carbon pollution by boosting investments in clean energy technologies, protect public health by reducing pollution from the largest emitters, and help communities cope with the increase in frequency and severity of extreme weather events linked to climate change.

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