22. Created Conditions to Begin Closing Dirtiest Power Plants: New EPA restrictions on mercury and toxic pollution, issued in December 2011, likely to lead to the closing of between sixty-eight and 231 of the nation’s oldest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants. Estimated cost to utilities: at least $11 billion by 2016. Estimated health benefits: $59 billion to $140 billion. Will also significantly reduce carbon emissions and, with other regulations, comprises what’s been called Obama’s “stealth climate policy.”
23. Passed Credit Card Reforms: Signed the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure Act (2009), which prohibits credit card companies from raising rates without advance notification, mandates a grace period on interest rate increases, and strictly limits overdraft and other fees.
24. Eliminated Catch-22 in Pay Equality Laws: Signed Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009, giving women who are paid less than men for the same work the right to sue their employers after they find out about the discrimination, even if that discrimination happened years ago. Under previous law, as interpreted by the Supreme Court in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., the statute of limitations on such suits ran out 180 days after the alleged discrimination occurred, even if the victims never knew about it.
25. Protected Two Liberal Seats on the U.S. Supreme Court: Nominated and obtained confirmation for Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic and third woman to serve, in 2009; and Elena Kagan, the fourth woman to serve, in 2010. They replaced David Souter and John Paul Stevens, respectively.
26. Improved Food Safety System: In 2011, signed FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, which boosts the Food and Drug Administration’s budget by $1.4 billion and expands its regulatory responsibilities to include increasing number of food inspections, issuing direct food recalls, and reviewing the current food safety practices of countries importing products into America.
27. Achieved New START Treaty: Signed with Russia (2010) and won ratification in Congress (2011) of treaty that limits each country to 1,550 strategic warheads (down from 2,200) and 700 launchers (down from more than 1,400), and reestablished and strengthened a monitoring and transparency program that had lapsed in 2009, through which each country can monitor the other.
28. Expanded National Service: Signed Serve America Act in 2009, which authorized a tripling of the size of AmeriCorps. Program grew 13 percent to 85,000 members across the country by 2012, when new House GOP majority refused to appropriate more funds for further expansion.
29. Expanded Wilderness and Watershed Protection: Signed Omnibus Public Lands Management Act (2009), which designated more than 2 million acres as wilderness, created thousands of miles of recreational and historic trails, and protected more than 1,000 miles of rivers.
30. Gave the FDA Power to Regulate Tobacco: Signed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (2009). Nine years in the making and long resisted by the tobacco industry, the law mandates that tobacco manufacturers disclose all ingredients, obtain FDA approval for new tobacco products, and expand the size and prominence of cigarette warning labels, and bans the sale of misleadingly labeled “light” cigarette brands and tobacco sponsorship of entertainment events.
31. Pushed Federal Agencies to Be Green Leaders: Issued executive order in 2009 requiring all federal agencies to make plans to soften their environmental impacts by 2020. Goals include 30 percent reduction in fleet gasoline use, 26 percent boost in water efficiency, and sustainability requirements for 95 percent of all federal contracts. Because federal government is the country’s single biggest purchaser of goods and services, likely to have ripple effects throughout the economy for years to come.
32. Passed Fair Sentencing Act: Signed 2010 legislation that reduces sentencing disparity between crack versus powder cocaine possessionfrom100 to1 to 18 to1.
33. Trimmed and Reoriented Missile Defense: Cut the Reagan-era “Star Wars” missile defense budget, saving $1.4 billion in 2010, and canceled plans to station antiballistic missile systems in Poland and the Czech Republic in favor of sea-based defense plan focused on Iran and North Korea.
34. Began Post-Post-9/11 Military Builddown: After winning agreement from congressional Republicans and Democrats in summer 2011 budget deal to reduce projected defense spending by $450 billion, proposed new DoD budget this year with cuts of that size and a new national defense strategy that would shrink ground forces from 570,000 to 490,000 over the next ten years while increasing programs in intelligence gathering and cyberwarfare.
35. Let Space Shuttle Die and Killed Planned Moon Mission: Allowed the expensive ($1 billion per launch), badly designed, dangerous shuttle program to make its final launch on July 8, 2011. Cut off funding for even more bloated and problem-plagued Bush-era Constellation program to build moon base in favor of support for private-sector low-earth orbit ventures, research on new rocket technologies for long-distance manned flight missions, and unmanned space exploration, including the largest interplanetary rover ever launched, which will investigate Mars’s potential to support life.
36. Invested Heavily in Renewable Technology: As part of the 2009 stimulus, invested $90 billion, more than any previous administration, in research on smart grids, energy efficiency, electric cars, renewable electricity generation, cleaner coal, and biofuels.
37. Crafting Next-Generation School Tests: Devoted $330 million in stimulus money to pay two consortia of states and universities to create competing versions of new K-12 student performance tests based on latest psychometric research. New tests could transform the learning environment in vast majority of public school classrooms beginning in 2014.
38. Cracked Down on Bad For-Profit Colleges: In effort to fight predatory practices of some for-profit colleges, Department of Education issued “gainful employment” regulations in 2011 cutting off commercially focused schools from federal student aid funding if more than 35 percent of former students aren’t paying off their loans and/or if the average former student spends more than 12 percent of his or her total earnings servicing student loans.
39. Improved School Nutrition: In coordination with Michelle Obama, signed Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010 mandating $4.5 billion spending boost and higher nutritional and health standards for school lunches. New rules based on the law, released in January, double the amount of fruits and vegetables and require only whole grains in food served to students.
40. Expanded Hate Crimes Protections: Signed Hate Crimes Prevention Act (2009), which expands existing hate crime protections to include crimes based on a victim’s sexual orientation, gender, or disability, in addition to race, color, religion, or national origin.
41. Avoided Scandal: As of November 2011, served longer than any president in decades without a scandal, as measured by the appearance of the word “scandal” (or lack thereof) on the front page of the Washington Post.
42. Brokered Agreement for Speedy Compensation to Victims of Gulf Oil Spill: Though lacking statutory power to compel British Petroleum to act, used moral authority of his office to convince oil company to agree in 2010 to a $20 billion fund to compensate victims of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico; $6.5 billion already paid out without lawsuits. By comparison, it took nearly two decades for plaintiffs in the Exxon Valdez Alaska oil spill case to receive $1.3 billion.
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