As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Forgive Me My "Change We Can Believe In" Gush

I think I've been critical of the Obama Administration where necessary, but on many fronts, they are pleasantly surprising, in particular with cabinet appointments I thought were middling at best. For example, Ken Salazar, who was pretty milquetoast as a Colorado Senator, is burning down the Interior Department, figuratively speaking, as its Secretary.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Tuesday that he was reconsidering a series of controversial energy and environmental decisions handed down in the waning days of the Bush administration, including a move to open federal land near national parks to oil and natural gas drilling.

Opening parts of the Mountain West to oil shale development -- a sensitive issue because of the huge quantities of water required to extract oil from the rock -- will also be reviewed, he said in his first formal news interview since wining Senate confirmation last week.

"I'm very concerned about a number of the midnight actions that were taken by the Bush administration," Salazar said. "We barely have moved in, but we already know enough to know there are many issues we need to revisit." [...]

He stressed the importance of science in agency decision-making, particularly in regard to endangered species. Late last year, the Bush administration said federal agencies would not be compelled to consult biologists about whether government projects such as new roads or dams would harm endangered wildlife or plants.

Salazar said he would reconsider that rule and would work to enhance Endangered Species Act protections for streams and habitat. "At the end of the day, it should be the scientific foundation that drives the decisions," he said.

Calling climate change "one of the signature issues of our time," he also said he was revisiting a Bush administration decision to exclude global warming considerations when acting to protect endangered species such as the polar bear, which is declining in part because of the shrinking polar ice.

In particular the oil shale development is intriguing, because Salazar didn't seem much opposed to that in the Senate. He also outlined stringent ethics standards, which makes sense considering that the Minerals Management Service was a hooker and blow ring, for all intents and purposes, during the Bush regime.

Over at the USDA, Tom Vilsack, who was looked at warily by food policy reformers, is getting decent marks for his work in the first week.

I liked the title of this article without even reading it: Vilsack Reverses Bush Administration Actions. First, he reinstated $3 million in funding for the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program (a program promoting fruits and vegetables) that the Bushies had cut. Second, he extended a comment period on a rule limiting crop subsidy payments by 60 days. (The specific name of the rule is 2008 Farm Bill Farm Program Payment Limitation and Payment Eligibility).

More goodies could be found in a USDA press release. That said Vilsack stated priorities as including:

* Combatting childhood obesity and promoting health and nutrition
* R&D for biofuels, wind, and other renewable energy
* The environment: Making progress on major environmental challenges, including climate change. Vilsack said it's important that farmers and ranchers play a role with USDA in efforts to promote incentives for management practices that provide clean air, clean water, and wildlife habitat, and help farmers participate in markets that reward them for sequestering carbon and limiting greenhouse gas emissions.
* Providing a safety net to farmers and ranchers - "including independent producers and local and organic agriculture."
* Enforcing the Packers and Stockyards Act!!!!!
* Quickly implementing the 2008 Farm Bill
* "Modernizing the food safety system"
* Food aid overseas
* The Forest Service: Restoring the mission of the Forest Service as a protector of clean air, clean water, and wildlife habitat; a provider of recreation opportunities; a key player in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and carbon sequestration.

If he can win over the reformers, he's got my blessing.

Finally, I don't have anything on HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan yet, but the Federal Reserve is promising to write down bad mortgages to limit foreclosures.

The Federal Reserve on Tuesday took a step toward easing mortgage foreclosures threatening millions of Americans, announcing that it would write down troubled mortgages to keep people in their homes.

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said the initiative would specifically include $74 billion of assets held in connection with the bailout last year of Bear Stearns and American International Group.

"The goal of the policy is to avoid preventable foreclosures on residential mortgage assets that are held, owned or controlled by a Federal Reserve Bank," he said in a letter to Rep. Barney Frank, chairman of the House of Representatives financial services committee.

Combine that with the assurances on foreclosure work-outs in TARP II and cram-down making its way through a House panel and there are legitimate efforts to keep people in their homes, which is quite a change.

OK, back to being crabby now that I got that out... :)

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