Magazine article American Forests

Washington Outlook

Magazine article American Forests

Washington Outlook

Article excerpt

While the inauguration of President Barack Obama brought great excitement and a renewed sense of hope to much of the nation, the new President quickly stepped into a maelstrom of economic issues dominating the nation's attention and policy discussion. His challenge has been to respond effectively to the immediate economic crises while moving forward with the policy platform on which he'd won the election.

He first worked with the Congress in early February to pass a massive and historic stimulus package to pick-up the nation's ailing economy. For forests and communities, the stimulus package--the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA)--includes $1.15 billion for the Forest Service and $320 million for the Bureau of Land Management to invest in improving infrastructure, such as roads, trails, and facilities, reducing hazardous fuels, and restoring the health of forest ecosystems. The agencies have begun spending initial portions of the funds but are also developing policies for allocating funds to ensure that key criteria, such as job creation and accountability, are met. American Forests and community-based partners have worked with the federal agencies to offer ideas on how funds could be allocated through existing programs and funding mechanisms, such as cooperative agreements, grants, and stewardship contracts, to meet the objectives of the stimulus package.

After the passage of the ARRA, President Obama turned his attention to the FY 2009 federal budget, which had been deferred by Congress last year through a continuing resolution due to expire in early March. After much agonizing debate over earmarks, Congress passed and President Obama signed on March 11 an admittedly less-than-perfect omnibus funding bill for the remainder of FY 2009. It seemed, however, that the President was looking to get beyond this old business and to take action on his own policy agenda.

In a February 24 speech to a joint session of Congress, President Obama got his first chance since taking office to refocus on key elements of the longer-term vision he promoted during his campaign, including a transformation to a clean energy, low carbon economy. He also called on Congress to develop and pass legislation that would establish a cap-and-trade system to address the threats of climate change:

"But to truly transform our economy, protect our security, and save our planet from the ravages of climate change, we need to ultimately make clean, renewable energy the profitable kind of energy. So I ask this Congress to send me legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America."

This was a bold request by the President at a time when many thought climate-change proposals would be delayed for a year or more until the nation was able to get back on a more stable economic footing. …

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