While Congress may have been downright hostile to environmental concerns this year, President Obama has stepped up, and environmental groups have had some big successes. Here are five winning moments for the environment from 2013:
1. Five New National Monuments
Environmentalists were delighted when President Obama signed proclamations on March 25, designating land in five states around the country as new National Monuments. He did this by using the 1906 Antiquities Act, which enables him to bypass Congress.
One of the most beautiful was the San Juan Islands, situated in the northern reaches of Washington State’s Puget Sound, an archipelago of over 450 islands, rocks and pinnacles. The San Juan Islands National Monument encompasses approximately 1,000 acres of land spread across many of these rocks and islands.
The other monuments protect and honor Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad in Maryland; Charles Young, the leader of the “Buffalo Soldiers” in Ohio; the Rio Grande del Norte in New Mexico; and the state of Delaware.
2. Forward on Climate
On February 17, more than 50,000 people turned out in Washington to tell President Obama that they wanted him to lead on climate, starting with a rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline.
A few days earlier, 48 people were arrested in front of the White House during the first sanctioned act of civil disobedience in the Sierra Club’s history.
In addition to Sierra Club leaders Michael Brune and Allison Chin, arrestees included civil rights leader Julian Bond, actress Daryl Hannah, climate scientist Jim Hansen and activist Bill McKibben.
3. Moving Beyond Coal
An awesome 158 coal plants have either already been shut down or soon will be, as we reach the end of 2013, thanks to a growing coalition of over 100 environmental groups. Their goal is to move the U.S. beyond coal by 2030.
According to the Clean Air Task Force, retiring these coal plants will help to save 4,000 lives, prevent 6,200 heart attacks and prevent 66,300 asthma attacks every year. Retiring these plants will also avoid $1.9 billion in health costs.
Now the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can accelerate this trend by following up its proposed new carbon pollution standards for new power plants with standards for existing plants.
Indeed, the Obama administration announced in September that it’s not afraid of a confrontation with the dying coal industry “and will press ahead with enacting the first federal carbon limits on the nation’s power companies,” reports the New York Times.
4. Standing Up to Fracking
Several communities along Colorado’s Front Range successfully passed fracking moratoriums during the last election.
On November 5, the Colorado cities of Ft. Collins and Boulder each passed a five-year moratorium on fracking. In the City of Lafayette, citizens passed a fracking ban coupled with an assertion of residents’ rights to a clean and healthy environment.
In the City of Loveland, a fracking moratorium was kept off the ballot based on a technicality, but steps are underway to hold a special election on the proposal in 2014.
There was also good news in California. Earlier in the year, the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) won a legal challenge against proposed fracking operations in California. A federal judge ruled that federal authorities should not have leased 2,700 acres of BLM land in Monterey and Fresno counties to oil and gas drillers without considering the environmental impacts of fracking.
5. California‘s Cap-and-Trade Program
California’s cap-and-trade program for carbon officially kicked off on January 1, 2013.
This was spurred by the state’s landmark bipartisan 2006 climate bill, the Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32). The law aims to cut the state’s greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, with one-third of electricity to come from renewable sources like solar and wind.
Since California is the world’s eighth largest economy, this program will hopefully serve as a model for national action on climate change.
Here’s hoping 2014 sees many more winning moments!