President Obama has vowed that in the absence of congressional action, he will use his executive privileges to combat climate change. Some who are seeking a pretext to discredit the President have suggested that he is ruling by executive orders (EOs). However, President Obama has signed fewer EOs in his first four years in office than most of his predecessors. Executive orders are issued by the President of the United States to manage the operations of the Federal Government.
In his 2013 State of the Union address, President Obama indicated that while he wants to work with Congress, he is prepared to use other means at his disposal:
"The good news is, we can make meaningful progress on this issue while driving strong economic growth. I urge this Congress to pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago. But if 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."
President Obama is far from the first President to use EO's to address environmental considerations. Most recently, his Republican predecessor, George W Bush signed EO 13423, "Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management," on January 24, 2007 and it was codified into law by the 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act, which was signed by President Obama on February 17, 2009.EO 13423 consolidates and strengthens the sustainable practices of the following EOs dating back to 1998.
- 13101 of September 14, 1998
- 13123 of June 3, 1999
- 13134 of August 12, 1999
- 13148 of April 21, 2000
- 13149 of April 21, 2000
EO 13423 directs federal agencies to establish absolute goals for carbon-cuts, to reduce fossil fuel consumption in federal vehicles by 30 percent, to implement a net-zero-energy requirement for federal buildings and to add sustainability requirements to federal contracts.
As explained by the Office of the Federal Environmental Executive, EO 13423 requires federal agencies to lead by example in advancing the nation’s energy security and environmental performance by increasing energy efficiency, reducing greenhouse gases, increasing renewable energy, improving building performance, enhancing water conservation, preventing pollution, conserving petroleum, using more alternative fuels, expanding purchases of environmentally sound goods and services, and more stringent environmental standards for electronics.
On Monday 26 January 2009, President Obama introduced his executive orders as follows, "I want to be clear from the beginning of this administration that we have made our choice: America will not be held hostage to dwindling resources, hostile regimes and a warming planet. Today I’m announcing the first steps on our journey toward energy independence, as we develop new energy, set new fuel efficiency standards and address greenhouse gas emissions."
EO 13514, “Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance,” was signed by the President on October 5, 2009. EO 13514 introduces new greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions management requirements, requiring each Federal Agency to submit a 2020 greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution reduction target from its estimated 2008 baseline by January 4, 2010. It also expands water reduction requirements for federal agencies, and addresses waste diversion, local planning, sustainable buildings, environmental management, and electronics stewardship.
President Obama signed EO is 13514 on Federal Sustainability on October 5, 2009, it requires each Federal Agency to submit a 2020 greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution reduction target using a 2008 baseline. President Obama has pledged to reduce the Federal government's GHG emissions by 28 percent over the next decade.
According to a press release from Whitehouse.gov, "Actions taken under this Executive Order will spur clean energy investments that create new private-sector jobs, drive long-term savings, build local market capacity, and foster innovation and entrepreneurship in clean energy industries."
Other green executive orders include:
- EO 13543 establishes a National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling.
- EO 13546 addresses the use and security of biological select agents and toxins.
- EO 13547 protects, maintains and supports the oceans, coasts, and the Great Lakes.
- EO 13626 addresses Gulf Coast ecosystem restoration.
- EO 13554 establishes the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force.
- EO 13624 accelerates Investment in Industrial Energy Efficiency.
This lst EO, signed in August, 2012, is designed to promote American manufacturing by helping to facilitate investments in energy efficiency at industrial facilities.
Section 1. Policy. Accelerate and expand investments that reduce energy use through more efficient manufacturing processes and facilities and the expanded use of combined heat and power (CHP).
Sec. 2. Encouraging Investment in Industrial Efficiency. Coordinate policies between a variety of departments to encourage investment in industrial efficiency in order to reduce costs for industrial users, improve U.S. competitiveness, create jobs, and reduce harmful air pollution.
(a) A national goal of deploying 40 gigawatts of new, cost-effective industrial CHP in the United States by the end of 2020;
(b) Public workshops, to develop and encourage the use of best practice State policies and investment models that address the multiple barriers to investment in industrial energy efficiency and CHP;
(c) Encourage investment in industrial energy efficiency and CHP, such as by providing assistance to States, providing incentives, employing output-based approaches as compliance options, seeking to expand participation in and create additional tools, reducing energy intensity by 25 percent over 10 years, support and encourage efforts to accelerate investment in industrial energy efficiency and CHP, providing general guidance, technical analysis and information, and financial analysis, improving the usefulness of Federal data collection and analysis, and assisting States in developing and implementing State-specific best practice policies.
The President's use of EO (13514) to establish Federal Leadership in Environmental Energy is amongst those actions that have been singled out for criticism by conservatives.
One headline referred to Obama as an "imperial president” and suggested that he is abusing his powers. Some went so far as to say that his green energy EO was unconstitutional. However, these types of attacks are little more than political theatre. Executive Orders are a routine part of presidential powers and contrary to what his detractors have alleged, President Obama has used his executive privileges very sparingly.
According to data derived from the Federal Registry, president Obama has issued less EOs than all of his predecessors.
- Barack Obama (2009-Present) passed 143 EOs averaging 35 per year.
- George W. Bush (2001-2009) passed 290 EO's averaging 36 per year
- William J. Clinton (1993-2001) passed EO's 363 averaging 45 per year
- George Bush (1989-1993) passed 165 averaging 41 per year
- Ronald Reagan (1981-1989) passed 380 averaging 47 per year
- Jimmy Carter (1977-1981) passed 319 EO's averaging 79 per year
- Gerald R. Ford (1974-1977) passed 168 EO's averaging 56 per year
- Richard Nixon (1969-1974) passed 345 EO's averaging 69 per year
- Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969) passed 323 EO's averaging 53 per year.
- John F. Kennedy (1961-1963) passed 213 EO's 10914-11127 averaging 106 per year
- Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961) passed 481 EO's 10432-10913 averaging 60 per year
- Harry S. Truman (1945-1953) passed 893 EO's averaging 111 per year
- Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945) passed 3466 EO's averaging 288 per year
- Herbert Hoover (1929-1933) passed 995 EO's averaging 248 per year
Historically, the average number of EOs per president is 610, which is more than four times the number of EOs signed by President Obama.
In the context of the current political environment, green EOs are one of the President's most potent weapons. However, there are limits to their utility. No matter what the President does, the U.S. must also pass climate legislation and this requires the support of the American people and Congress.
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.
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