By Michael Rady
American environmental policy has come a long way since President Obama was inaugurated just over a year ago. Immediately following his move into the White House, the President instructed the Department of Transportation to increase national fuel economy standards from 27.5 mpg to 42 mpg for 2011 model year cars. This improvement preceded various other executive actions to address impending environmental concerns, namely global warming. On this front, the E.P.A. took a momentous step to recognize that greenhouse gases such as Carbon dioxide pose a threat to humans and the environment. This acknowledgment allowed the agency to strictly regulate carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles, factories, and other major emitters.
Yet the President and his E.P.A. Secretary Lisa Jackson both agree that greenhouse gases should be regulated by an act of Congress, not by executive decree. Thus, the American Clean Energy and Security Act, passed in late June by the House of Representatives, sheds better light on how Carbon dioxide emissions will be controlled by the federal government. The House Climate Bill would set a limit on how much Carbon dioxide the nation can emit each year, slowly reducing that amount each year until 2050. The country’s CO2 emissions would be reduced by 17% of 2005 levels by 2020 and 80% of 2005 levels by 2050. Utilities, manufacturers, and other groups would receive credits for permissible carbon emissions, and these groups would be allowed to sell unused credits, or buy more credits, depending upon their carbon needs.
President Obama’s first year in office saw some progressive environmental policy changes; however, many of the reforms that were initiated this past year depend upon further action in 2010.
While the House climate bill created a clear framework to reduce American greenhouse gas emissions, the Senate has just begun debating climate change legislation. Senators Kerry and Boxer introduced the “Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act” on September 30th to Senator Boxer’s Committee on Environment and Public Works. The bill highly mirrors the House legislation, with many of the same long-term reduction targets. However, since its introduction, the Kerry-Boxer bill has made little progress in committee, and is expected to face further hurdles in the Finance, Commerce, and Agriculture Committees. Moreover, the bill will likely not be debated on the Senate floor until healthcare is resolved, a jobs bill is passed, and financial regulatory measures are agreed upon. These obstacles have led some to predict that a climate bill may have to wait until 2011.
If Congress does not pass climate legislation in a timely manner, the E.P.A. may very well decide to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. E.P.A. reforms would undoubtedly reduce emissions, yet some fear unilateral executive action would not only cost President Obama political favor, but would also have a more damaging impact upon utility rates and manufacturing costs than would Congressional legislation with tax-credits, grants, and relief to the poor.
By Maddy Joseph
Obama – unlike Bush who nicknamed himself the “education president” and made national education legislation one of his first legislative priorities – has not made education a huge part of his agenda in the first year of his presidency. The moves he did make in 2009 were well received: picking an education secretary respected by reformers and union leaders alike and using money from Congressional stimulus packages to spur state-based reform.
But, what will 2010 bring in the politics of education? Here are two topics sure to be on everyone’s minds.
Race to the Top Fund
As part of the stimulus money allocated for education, Obama designated $4.35 billion for a grant competition among states known as Race to the Top. In theory, the prospect of more money for education should provide states with the incentive to create more meaningful reforms. The two-phase competition, which ends in September 2010, is a big deal for states (and DC), which are scrambling to remove undesirable laws and to create new programs that have an impact in the four main areas scored: turning around failing schools, creating better standards and assessments, increasing the use of data, and improving teacher quality. As applications are reviewed and money rewarded, look for a bigger discussion of what kinds of innovation have and haven’t been working and some of the institutional barriers that exist for states and cities trying to revolutionize their schools.
Most people in education understood the rules of Race to the Top as an outline of the Obama agenda on education, and Obama and Secretary of Education Duncan’s statements on education, which focus on raising the bar on failing schools and on teacher quality (specifically the importance of linking the assessment of teachers to student achievement data), seem to corroborate this claim.
No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Reauthorization
A recent article in Education Week suggests that Race to the Top not only laid out Obama’s broad priorities in education but also his plans for changes in NCLB, which is set to be reauthorized soon, possibly in 2010. If the debate about NCLB does get underway in 2010, it will become a huge, nationwide discussion of the direction of the government’s education policy in the last decade. There has been controversy about so many elements of NCLB that there are just too many points to name, and there is general consensus that the law is broken and in need of a total revamping. Some major questions about the general approach taken under NCLB need to be answered, and maybe will be in 2010:
- Should the role of the federal government be smaller or larger? States have actually made less progress (as measured by a national assessment) since NCLB, when the federal government took on a larger role. Some will say, hand education back to the states. Others will say that the structure of NCLB encouraged states to lower standards on their own assessments in order to reach the goal of 100% proficiency by 2014, thus decreasing actual student learning.
- Is the sanction approach of NCLB the right way to do it? Under NCLB, schools that are failing are labeled that and face a variety of what we might call punishments, including forced restructuring and the possibility of losing many students and the money that comes with them. The approach that Obama has taken with Race to the Top is one of positive incentives, and maybe that, or something like it, can be translated into NCLB.
Also, if you’re interested in reading more about these issues a good basic resource is the Times Topics page on No Child Left Behind. There are also many articles on Race to the Top and other stimulus funds in Education Week’s “Schools and the Stimulus”