The Environmental Protection Agency's finding that greenhouse gases are hazardous to public health and welfare gives Obama the authority to invoke stricter emission controls and regulations under the 40-year-old Clean Air Act. Obama has indicated he would prefer Congress to advance the cap-and-trade regulation. Nevertheless, the EPA's step signals the beginning of a possible radical shift in environmental and climate change policy. Starting from his campaign, the president has said he wants to focus on creating green jobs and a more comprehensive energy and environmental policy. While focusing on energy efficient cars and buildings, he has reiterated that he wants to reduce dependence on foreign oil.
The president authorized full scientific reviews of projects that might harm endangered wildlife and plants. Obama's memorandum overrides the Bush administration regulation that limits scientific reviews of projects that could harm endangered species.
While signing the act on March 3, Obama chided Bush's policies, saying that "For more than three decades, the Endangered Species Act has successfully protected our nation's most threatened wildlife. We should be looking for ways to improve it, not weaken it." The Obama team had promised the change during the presidential campaign, a move welcomed by environmentalists who say the government's protection does not go far enough.
Obama started a process and asked the EPA to look at allowing California and 13 other states the right to set their own, stricter, automobile emissions and fuel efficiency standards, a plea by the states that was rejected by the Bush administration. This was just one of the first steps in altering the environment policy from that of the Bush administration.
Obama also directed Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, to finalize the fuel efficiency standards for cars for 2011 and to make recommendations for beyond that year, an action expected to lead to stricter fuel efficiency standards. The president is expected to continue taking further such steps away from his predecessor's policies. The Obama administration is also seeking tougher regulations on mercury emissions and changing the way the Bush team approached the topic.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced in February that the government would withdraw oil and gas leases that were offered on 77 parcels of public land for drilling near national parks in Utah by the Bush administration and that are currently in court. "In its last weeks in office, the Bush administration rushed ahead to sell oil and gas leases at the doorstep of some of our nation's most treasured landscapes in Utah," Salazar said. "We need to responsibly develop our oil and gas supplies to help us reduce our dependence on foreign oil, but we must do so in a thoughtful and balanced way that allows us to protect our signature landscapes and cultural resources in places like Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Parks, Dinosaur National Monument, and Nine Mile Canyon, for future generations." The leases are for a total of 103,225 acres. Salazar also scrapped leases for oil-shale development on federal land in Colorado and Wyoming. Salazar has also rejected a Bush plan to open areas off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to oil drilling, criticizing the previous administration for "foot dragging."