EVERY LITTLE BIT HELPS…. A couple of weeks ago, an item from Bill McKibben caused a stir, as he relayed his difficulties in getting the Obama White House to install solar panels on its roof. McKibben, who took a road trip to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to urge this simple step, had brought students with him from Maine, who were reduced to tears after an unsatisfying meeting with administration officials.

McKibben, noting his first-hand experience with the “enthusiasm gap” and blasting the president for having “stiffed” him and his efforts, added some speculation: “the White House political team has decided that if they put solar panels up on the roof, Fox News will use that as one more line of attack; that they somehow believe the association with Jimmy Carter is the electoral equivalent of cooties; and that, in the junior high school lunchroom that now comprises our political life, they didn’t want to catch any.”

That was 18 days ago. Today, the White House that seemed to let environmentalists down took a far more encouraging step forward — and showed no regard for electoral cooties.

President Barack Obama has agreed to put solar panels back on the White House roof for the first time since former President Ronald Reagan had them taken off in 1986.

“By the end of this spring, there will be solar panels that convert sunlight into electricity and a solar hot water heater on the roof of the White House,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu told a clean energy conference at George Washington University on Tuesday. […]

“Around the world the White House is a symbol of freedom and democracy,” Chu said. “It should also be a symbol of American commitment to a clean energy future.”

In a statement, McKibben said he was thrilled with the news. “The White House did the right thing, and for the right reasons: they listened to the Americans who asked for solar on their roof, and they listened to the scientists and engineers who told them this is the path to the future,” Mr. McKibben said in a statement. “If it has anything like the effect of the White House garden, it could be a trigger for a wave of solar installations across the country and around the world.”

I’ve noticed that the White House doesn’t always do the right thing immediately, and may not move as quickly as some would like, but more often than not, it lands where it should on issues that matter.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.