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200 Things Obama Can Do For the Environment—Without Congress

Shackled to a Congress packed with climate-change deniers, how much can President Barack Obama actually do on the environment?

A lot, as it turns out. A report released Tuesday by the Center for the New Energy Economy (CNEE) suggests over 200 executive actions for him to consider. “It isn't that the president can do all of this over the remainder of his second term; the thought is to give the president a menu of options,” Bill Ritter, the director of CNEE and a former governor of Colorado, told the National Journal. The wish-list draws on conversations with over 100 energy experts and business leaders. Here are a few things they say Obama could do.

Greener federal buildings

Obama has jurisdiction over energy-saving performance contracts (ESPCs), “arrangements in which private companies make energy efficiency improvements to federal buildings… There is no cost to taxpayers. The companies are repaid by sharing the government’s savings on energy bills.” Obama ordered agencies to execute $2 billion in ESPCs in 2011, but he could go further. The report suggests that he amend his 2011 directive “to require that agencies execute $1 billion in energy saving contracts in each of the next 5 years.”

More energy-efficient appliances

The national economy wastes a staggering 87 percent of the energy it uses, so coming up with more efficient technologies should be a top priority. As a start, CNEE suggests that Obama order his Office of Management and Budget to complete a pending review of new efficiency standards for appliances within 90 days—which its own rules actually require. 

Get tough on power plants and fracking

Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency is already at work on greenhouse gas emissions standards for power plants: The agency released standards for new plants in 2013, but the real test will be how hard it’s willing to crack down on existing plants. The report contains a reminder that the strength of these new regulations, pitched as the cornerstone of Obama’s environmental legacy, will also determine how much they promote the development of renewables.

The president could also push for more oversight on hydraulic fracturing. Fracking’s full environmental impact is not yet known, but it appears to be causing everything from water contamination to earthquakes. The report urges: “Direct the Bureau of Land Management to require that gas producers use and demonstrate the best available technologies and practices on federal lands” and “Direct the Council on Environmental Policy and the Office of Science and Technology Policy to work with states and the natural gas industry to improve the states’ ability to inspect and enforce environmental rules.”  

Don't just punish—offer incentives

Environmental policy needs to employ the carrot as well as the stick. Obama could institute a few incentives. For example, “Create a ‘Golden Carrot’ for advanced biomass fuels" [commonly known as biofuels]. This would be a "significant cash prize" to reward a company or individual for bringing greener fuels into the mainstream.

Photo credit Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images.