Update: From Obama’s Initial Moves to Bird Deaths

by Bill Chameides | January 27th, 2009
posted by Erica Rowell (Editor)

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There have been much doings in the environmental world of late. Here’s a quick update.

Obama’s Environmental Legacy, Chapter 1

Last week I mused about how history will rate the new president on his environmental record by looking at the records of presidents past. Yesterday, in instructing the Environmental Protection Agency to review California’s request for a waiver to promulgate its own tougher emission standards on greenhouse gases from automobiles, President Obama went a long way toward staking out the high ground.

Schisms in Climate Legislation

Here on I’ve noted the difficulties in getting climate legislation passed because of splits in the environmental community. Now the New York Times has reported on another impediment: a brown state-green state split among Democratic members of Congress. All the more reason for the president not to wait for Congress and instead to instruct EPA’s Lisa Jackson to develop federal rules to regulate CO2 as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act, as per the Supreme Court’s ruling in Massachusetts v. EPA [pdf].

Climate Change Is Forever

Once we cut greenhouse gas emissions, how long will it take for the warming to dissipate? The answer is provided in a new paper by Susan Solomon of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and colleagues to be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: about 1000 years. That’s a long time to wait for your beachfront property to return. (See here and here.)

The Clean Air Act Legacy

Last week I noted the significant environmental legacy of Richard Nixon, including the passage of the Clean Air Act. Now the benefits of that legislation have been quantified in a paper published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine. Researcher C. Arden Pope at Brigham Young University and colleagues found that since the late 1970s Americans’ overall life expectancy has increased by 2 years and 8 months. An average of 5 months of this increase is directly attributable to air quality improvements from clean air legislation.


There has been much discussion of birds and the ways in which we humans kill them, from sending our cats outdoors to putting up windmills. While there has also been much talk about the recent ditching of US Airways Flight 1549 into the Hudson River after colliding with birds (see video), I have not seen any speculation as to whether this isn’t a new retaliatory tactic on the part of birds at us humans. If so, which agency would be in change of dealing with the problem: EPA, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, or the Department of Homeland Security? Looks like it might be the Federal Aviation Administration.

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