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There The White House Goes Green Again

In the AMERICAN EXPERIENCE film Earth Days, environmental pioneer Hunter Lovins states “we lost thirty years,” as the film cuts from footage President Ronald Reagan dismantling the solar water heaters on the White House roof. President Jimmy Carter had installed the solar water heaters in the hopes of leading by example in a country devastated by oil dependence and the OPEC oil embargo. Yesterday, President Obama announced his intentions to install new solar panels on top of the White House. Inside AMERICAN EXPERIENCE takes a quick look at the similarities and differences between the Obama solar White House and the Carter solar White House and highlights one Presidential solar pioneer you may have missed.

So where did President Carter’s solar panels go?

The solar panels installed by the Carter White House eventually made their way to Unity College in Maine where, until recently, they were heating water for a cafeteria on campus. Just last year, the solar panels were disconnected; the vintage panels have since been at least partly removed. A stunt that at least on the surface seems to have worked, a green energy group, drove one panel was driven back to the White House to encourage the Obama administration to go back to solar. You can see’s photostream of the event here.

The White House’s unknown solar pioneer

What you may not know, as it wasn’t widely publicized, was that President George W. Bush was the first to put solar panels back on White House grounds after they were taken down in 1986. He was also the first to use the new photovoltaic solar-electric panels to help power some of the maintenance buildings on the White House grounds. It was an event reported mostly by trade magazines. The lead up to the Iraq War may have swallowed up most of the headline space elsewhere.

Where to go for some good background

Since the first Earth Day in April 1970—considered by many to be the start of the modern American environmental movement—presidential records on the environment have varied in surprising ways. Nixon enacted both the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts as well as proposed and organized the Environmental Protection Agency. Watching Earth Days you can even follow along and keep score as the environmental movement progresses and each President leaves his mark on American environmental policy.

You can learn more about the current president’s environmental policies here:

The Wikipedia Article on American Environmental Policy is a good starting point as well:


Sean Cleary is a blogger for Inside AMERICAN EXPERIENCE and a member of the Communications team, where he also assembles AMERICAN EXPERIENCE’s weekly newsletter. 

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