How Green are our Presidents?

by Sue Taggart

This article was updated on February 15th, 2021. 

How green are our presidents? Following four years of Donald Trump rolling back 100’s of environmental regulations, many put in place by his predecessor Barak Obama, we wanted to take a look at the famous residency located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to see how green the home to our country’s leader really is.

As we celebrate President’s Day and honor the past Presidents of the United States, specifically George Washington whose birthday falls on February 22, and Abraham Lincoln whose birthday is on February 12, we are reminded that anyone who is in a position of leadership and power, like the President, carried with them great responsibility.  Their actions both on a professional and personal front, are watched closely, but this also means that they have the power to do good, influencing others to do good by following in their footsteps.  In taking strides to make the White House eco-friendly, the President is encouraging the rest of the country to do the same. As President Bill Clinton once said, “…Before I can ask you to do the best you can in your house, I ought to make sure I’m doing the best I can in my house.”

There have been many great Presidents in our history who have taken action to help the environment. Theodore Roosevelt for instance placed a high priority on conservation, established five national parks, 18 national monuments and played a key role in creating the U.S. Forest Service. In 1979, Jimmy Carter had a $28,000 solar water heater installed on the roof of the West Wing, making him the first President to utilize solar power in the White House. On Earth Day in 1993, Bill Clinton introduced the Greening of the White House project, which would take strides to evaluate and improve the energy efficiency throughout the historic monument. In its first six years, nearly $1.4 million was saved in conservation efforts.

These strategies were further implemented during George Bush’s time in office. In 2002, three solar systems were installed on the roof, and by 2007, according to an NBC report, many improvements such as energy-efficient lighting, low flush toilets and improve insulation, among other things, had been made.

The Obamas continued the momentum to make the building, which is over 229 years old, as efficient as possible. Aside from Michelle’s organic vegetable garden that she planted, President Obama also installed additional solar panels and solar hot water heaters to the roof during the spring of 2011. President Obama also sought LEED certification for the White House through water and energy conservation. The Treasury Building, which sits right next to the White House, received the LEED Gold certification in December 2011 and is currently the oldest building in the world to have received the certification.

President Trump on the other hand had no interest whatsoever in the environment, in fact, his legacy could possibly be one of climate damage. It seems Melania Trump wasn’t that concerned either. Towards the end of 2017, Melania had to make the decision to cut back portions of the Jackson Magnolia, a tree that was planted directly to the left of the South Portico after Andrew Jackson took office in the 1800s. While efforts had been made over the years to preserve it, specialists from the United States National Arboretum were brought in and they decided that the structure of the tree was “greatly compromised and the tree is completely dependent on [its] artificial support, CNN reported.

President Biden may find it more difficult than his former boss, President Barack Obama, to use executive authority to create tough, durable climate change rules because the six-justice conservative majority on the Supreme Court is expected to look unfavorably on policies that significantly expand federal agencies’ authority to regulate the industry.

But fortunately, President Biden has assembled a team with ample legal grounding to take early executive actions — not only to roll back Trump administration damages but to roll forward new rules that address the ever-growing climate crisis. Biden has quickly brought the U.S. back into the international Paris climate agreement, through which countries worldwide agreed to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions driving global warming. Years of delays have allowed global warming to progress so far that many of its impacts may soon become irreversible. To meet its ambitious goals, the administration will need everyone, progressives, and conservatives, state and local leaders, and the private sector, to work with them.

Let’s hope the White House will be the Green House with the Biden’s in residence.

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