The Good, The Bad and The Disappointing: Environmental Highlights From Obama’s First Year

Many environmentally minded Americans welcomed Obama to the office of the President a year ago with high hopes that he would be able to at least start righting the environmental wrongs that had occured during the previous administration.

No matter how critical you want to be of the things that were or were not accomplished by the Obama administration, you have to admit that they took over quite a mess. With a war overseas that was quickly disintegrating into chaos and an economy that was at its lowest point in decades demanded Obama’s immediate attention, while an impending climate crisis threatened to change the very face of the planet that we all depend on for survival, the only guarantee was that no matter which he tackled first, someone was going to be put out.

Needless to say, it’s been a busy year.

Part of our responsibility as Americans (and planetary citizens) is to hold our political representatives accountable, which means that we must look back to see whether or not actions over the past year have matched the promises that were made before the election.

Here are some of the highlights from this past year under the first year of the Obama White House. Ask yourself whether you’re happy with the progress, and if the answer is no, ask yourself what you’re going to do about it. And then take action!

The Good: Renewable Energy, Green Jobs, and Regulation

  • Purposeful action was taken to put clean energy at the top of legislative lists in both the House and the Senate, right from the start of the Obama term.
  • The administration followed-up on the 2007 Supreme Court ruling and declared carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases a threat to public health; mandated that major facilities publicly report carbon emissions beginning early this year; and proposed the first-ever greenhouse gas and fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks, a measure expected to save 1.8 billion barrels of oil (NRDC).
  • An investment of more than $50 billion available for renewable energy investments and improvement in the energy efficiency of homes, cars and workplaces created green collar jobs and meant that the U.S. has taken its first steps toward an ecomony based on renewable, domestically available energy sources, a change that can’t come a moment too soon.

The Bad: Endangered Species, Mountain Top Removal Mining

  • In a shock to many who had hoped that the Obama administration would be able to correct the irresponsible environmental and wildlife policies that riddled the Bush administration, the hunting of the gray wolf was once again made legal in the United States, for the first time in decades.
  • The end of 2009 saw an unprecedented chance for the United States to take a leading role in the climate change change debate by bringing an agressive climate regulation bill to Copenhagen, but despite thousands of petition signatures, political controversy prevented the House and Senate from reaching an agreemement. 
  • While big ticket issues like climate change and healthcare monopolized most of the public and media attention, less popular issues like the negative impact of mountain top removal mining were shoved to the back burner. Despite the initial positive action of freezing over 70 new mountain top removal mining permits in the begining of the term, and declaring that it would finally take an in depth look at the potentally hazardous environmental consequences of this destructive practice, the EPA cracked under the pressure, and approved more mountain top removal mining sites in the already devastated West Virginina mountains.

The Dissapointing: Copenhagen, Superfund Sites, Ethanol

  • Without a doubt, the President’s unwillingness to commit to a meaningful appearance at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen was one of his more obvious environmental dissapointments. Concerned environmentalists begged, wrote letters, pleaded, and signed petitions for months leading up to the conference, only to finally find out in the 11th hour that he would attend only for one day. The decision was presented almost as an after thought, and reports included the qualification that Obama would only stop in “on his way to Oslo to pick up the Nobel Peace Prize.”
  • Although many thought that under Obama the EPA would emerge stronger and more empowered than ever before, the reality has been a lackluster agency that seems to take one step forward only to take two steps back. Many were shocked when Obama’s EPA announced that that over its first three years it would clean up less Superfund sites—the nation’s most contaminated places—than any administration since 1991, including the Bush administration ( The EPA will only finalize clean up on 42 sites in the next two years, although 527 sites remain that require cleaning-up.
  • When the U.S. first started to wake up to the fact that oil and coal were both dirty and unreliable sources of energy, science was frantic to come up with an alternative that could be produced here at home. Many thought ethanol (a corn-based gasoline additive) could have been that silver bullet, but instead it drove up the price of food, and remained unaccessible and impractical for many drivers. Despite the fact that subsequent studies have shown that ethanol is anything but environmentally friendly, “the President continues to stand behind ethanol, bowing to political pressure from lobbyists with powerful agricultural companies and representatives from the Midwest who want subsidies on ethanol, even though science has proven it is inefficient” (

Can you think of a Good, Bad or Disappointing environmental move that Obama made in the past year, but isn’t on this list? Please share it in a comment!

Image found at:
Copyright by The Bergman Group/Darren Wamboldt.


Barry T.
Barry AWAY T7 years ago

We gave him a chance ... and no, he won't ... because he has, sadly, been bought and paid for like every other president.
If you doubt this, just do a little research. Google “Goldman Sachs Obama” and enjoy your reading. And make sure you read the Rolling Stone article “The Great American Bubble Machine”.
Prepare to have your illusions shattered.
Don't get me wrong and please don't think I am attacking you, but Obama, while better than a Republican, is not going to and cannot, change anything of real consequence. If he even tried, he would be ... gone.
He knows it, and I think all of us know it. All we need do is look around for all the people in the last 50 years who might have made a serious difference - and, oh shit, they are ALL either ... co-opted, disgraced or ... gone.
Is it all hopeless? I don't know but I don't think so.
I DO believe that as long as we are waiting for some leader or whatever to make it happen, we will be waiting a long, long time through endless disappointments.
Only WE can make it happen and that means standing up and shouting and being counted and not sitting down when there is the first minor sign that something is going right but to keep standing and to keep shouting until what needs to be done is done.

Loesje v.
Loesje Najoan7 years ago

Just give him a chance...and yes he can!!!

Chelsea Buck
Chelsea B8 years ago


Kurt Valentine

What did he do, actually?

Jessica S.
Jessica S8 years ago


Kat S.
Past Member 8 years ago

Our Presidents have NEVER lived up to their promises nothing new to me. I would love for it to be different. Very well sritten article, thanks.

Stuart O.
Stuart O8 years ago

Calling the citizens of Planet Earth. Please sign the following petitions, as every signiture is converted into those wonderful things you call butterfly points allowing me to plant you some more trees. Also the success of the petitions will help change your world for the better.
Us friendy aliens would love to start coming here for our holidays again!

Intergalactic salutations and much heaps of gratitude.
PS: Please; no more alien autopsies. You try selling package tours to earth after that, let alone timeshare schemes.
PPS: The Allotment one is only available in the land mass known as UK. Thanks again.

Patricia F.
Patricia F8 years ago

I was afraid that when I voted for him there would come an OH NO WHAT DID I DO moment.Unforutanatly I have had a couple.I knew he sais he was pro coice but mot in the way of really supporting it and he had hope to lower the number of them all together.Instead he has PROMOTED ABORTIONS and even worse 3 trimester one and now he wants all those that are morally against it to pay for the murder of a child who only need to take a breath outside the womb to live and and stab the brain and suck it out or sever the spinal cord!! Or literately,crush the skull after the head is out .They have even been decapitated with their mouth held shut to keep out the screams This is beyond murder.It is worse than any child abuse.There is NO reason the child should have to die to save the woman's life.If this were a child born 10 weeks premature it would be in a NICU unit at the hospital not in the trash can torn to shreds.My son was born several weeks early and he was breathing on his own.His only problem was keeping warm .Other than that he was fine, he ate,nursed ,dirtied diapers and came home after 3 weeks at the gestational age of 21 weeks.He is a great little 12 year old boy.Non of my kids went full term so I know a lot about unborn babies and how real little people they are.I have seen some smaller that the length of a pencil all stretched out ( less that 21 weeks along) They were opening their eyes and smiling at moms and staff.They did everything.They are human and deserve to live too !

Cathy L.
Cathy L8 years ago

He was going to do so much for gays right to marry too. Instead he assigns he brings more hate into the picture. He does everything he can to let down the country.

Tara D.
Tara D.8 years ago

The assumption that Obama was going to be a saviour was a huge, and bizarre mistake. The sheer scope of the problems his administration had to take on, coupled with the balancing act that is politics- he still needs Republican vote on many issues- have made what they did accomplish quite impressive. Politics remains a group effort, and the (attempted) consensus of democracy means that real change takes time.

Anyone who put him on a pedestal is bound to feel disappointed; illusion is part of politics, but don't let your own illusions get in the way!