What have Obama's first 100 days meant for the South?

Everyone else is chiming in with their grade on President Obama's first 100 days in office, so we thought we'd join in, too.

As we and others noted after Obama's election, his candidacy had enormous importance in the South, as did his victory in three key Southern states -- representing one-third of the South's total Electoral College votes.

But what has President Obama meant for the South since taking office in January? Our team at Facing South looked at two key areas that have been focal points of our coverage and major issues in the South -- energy policy and Gulf Coast recovery -- to assess Obama's record so far.


In his first 100 days in office, President Obama has taken some major steps forward on the environment after years of foot-dragging and outright obstructionism by the Bush administration. As Jeff Biggers, author of "The United States of Appalachia," pointed out in his assessment of the new administration's first 100 days, Obama has opened the door to discussions on coal for the first time in almost a decade and has moved in the right direction to address climate destabilization and environmentally destructive mining operations.

The budget plan released earlier this year by Obama provides a big boost to renewable energy paid for in part by a cap on greenhouse gas pollution. And this month, the administration declared carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases a danger to "the public health and welfare of current and future generations," opening the way for new regulations of coal-burning power plants and other industrial facilities.

However, some environmentalists criticize the administration's approach so far as piecemeal and overly cautious -- a criticism driven home by a filing this week in a legal case involving mountaintop removal. Representing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is in charge of permitting mountaintop removal operations, the Obama Justice Department submitted a brief to a federal appeals court opposing further review of an overturned lower court ruling that would have more strictly regulated the practice, which involves blasting off the tops of mountains to get to the coal beneath and dumping the resulting waste into valleys below. It was a disappointment for environmental advocates across Appalachia who had hoped Obama would reverse government policies supporting mountaintop removal.


More than three and a half years since Hurricane Katrina, the Gulf Coast continues to struggle with rebuilding. In his first days in office, President Obama made a strong statement for supporting the Gulf Coast, criticizing former-President Bush's failed response to Hurricane Katrina and promising to fulfill the unkept promises to rebuild the region.

Obama has also taken several symbolic actions in support of Gulf Coast recovery. In February Obama gave a 6-month extension to the Office of the Federal Coordinator for Gulf Coast Rebuilding. He then dispatched Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to tour the region in early March. In one of her first moves as Homeland Security secretary, Napolitano ordered a fresh review of hurricane recovery efforts, making several reorganizations aimed at freeing up funds for the region and solving disputes between FEMA and local governments.

In March President Barack Obama also tapped veteran Florida emergency manager Craig Fugate to head the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a choice applauded by Gulf advocates.

The Gulf Coast's relationship with stimulus funding has been more contentious. Through the $787 billion federal stimulus package, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama received about $10 billion combined, but there was no money specifically earmarked for post-Katrina Gulf Coast recovery in those states. As the Associated Press reported in February:
The economic stimulus signed by President Barack Obama will spread billions of dollars across the country to spruce up aging roads and bridges. But there's not a dime specifically dedicated to fixing leftover damage from Hurricane Katrina. And there's no outrage about it.
While leadership at the state level did not speak out about the issue, there was disappointment expressed by grassroots groups and advocates who thought the stimulus debate opened the possibility for a more thorough-going Gulf Coast Civil Works program. which could have simultaneously provided tens of thousands of jobs while accelerating rebuilding efforts.

This amounted to a lost opportunity and continuing pattern of neglect, argue those like Harry Shearer at the Huffington Post:
There was not one dollar in the stimulus package, not one out of 700-billion-plus, to help the rebuilding of the tattered levee-floodwall system (despite the Corps of Engineers' statement, a few weeks ago, that, supposedly because of money shortfall, they would choose the "technically not superior" solution to the repair of one poorly-built floodwall; not one dollar out of 700-billion-plus to accelerate the restoration of the coastal wetlands that buffer New Orleans from stronger hurricanes, despite the fact that human activity, including Corps of Engineers-built canals and oil company pipelines, have caused most of the destruction of the wetlands.

Not shovel ready? The only thing readier for a shovel is the hope that the new administration might really bring the nation's attention to the federal government's responsibility for the disaster, not just for the lackluster response, and might step up to its responsibility to do the job right this time.All during the campaign, and then during the first 50 days, Obama partisans would say to me, "his heart's in the right place, just give him some time, he's got a full plate." Yet, the Corps is making decisions right now that chill the blood of New Orleanians concerned about their city's future, and Simon Cowell will be on welfare before this Congress will pass another stimulus bill.

The money window is shut, and the administration has been content to focus the nation's attention on Latin American relations, on high-speed rail, on Bo -- on anything but the near-destruction of a great American city.