IEEE-USA InFocus

President Obama Outlines Plans for Addressing Global Climate Change

By IEEE-USA Staff

During 25 June remarks at Georgetown University, President Obama outlined a series of actions using existing legislative authorities to address carbon emissions and the challenges associated with global climate change.

Citing various indicators of climate change, President Obama explained the reason for proceeding with an executive branch plan sans new legislation from Congress: “In my State of the Union address, I urged Congress to come up with a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one that Republican and Democratic senators worked on together a few years ago.  And I still want to see that happen.  I’m willing to work with anyone to make that happen. But this is a challenge that does not pause for partisan gridlock.  It demands our attention now.”

A key element of the plan announced by President Obama was his direction to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to outline a proposed rule to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal and gas-fired utilities by June 2014.  The president also outlined a new test for approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, noting that he will not okay the pipeline if building it would “significantly exacerbate” global climate change.

The plan outlines a series of proposed actions that are organized around three broad themes – using existing legal authorities and resources to reduce carbon emissions in the United States, investing to enhance resilience of communities and critical infrastructures to climate change effects, and working bilaterally and internationally to address climate change at the global level.

Cutting Carbon Emissions

The administration plan:

  • Directs EPA to work closely with states, industry and other stakeholder to establish carbon pollution standards for both new and existing power plants;
  • Makes up to $8 billion in loan guarantee authority available for a wide array of advanced fossil energy and efficiency projects to support investments in innovative technologies;
  • Directs DOI to permit enough renewables project-like wind and solar-on public lands by 2020 to power more than 6 million homes; designates the first-ever hydropower project for priority permitting; and sets a new goal to install 100 megawatts of renewables on federally assisted housing by 2020; while maintaining the commitment to deploy renewables on military installations;
  • Expands the president’s Better Building Challenge, focusing on helping commercial, industrial, and multi-family buildings cut waste and become at least 20 percent more energy efficient by 2020;
  • Sets a goal to reduce carbon pollution by at least 3 billion metric tons cumulatively by 2030 – more than half of the annual carbon pollution from the U.S. energy sector – through efficiency standards set over the course of the Administration for appliances and federal buildings;
  • Commits to partnering with industry and stakeholders to develop fuel economy standards for heavy-duty vehicles to save families money at the pump and further reduce reliance on foreign oil and fuel consumption post-2018; and
  • Leverages new opportunities to reduce pollution of highly-potent greenhouse gases known as hydrofluorocarbons; directs agencies to develop a comprehensive methane strategy; and commits to protect our forests and critical landscapes.

Adapting to Climate Change

The administration’s plan:

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  • Directs agencies to support local climate-resilient investment by removing barriers or counterproductive policies and modernizing programs; and establishes a short-term task force of state, local, and tribal officials to advise on key actions the federal government can take to help strengthen communities on the ground;
  • Pilots innovative strategies in the Hurricane Sandy-affected region to strengthen communities against future extreme weather and other climate impacts; and building on a new, consistent flood risk reduction standard established for the Sandy-affected region, agencies will update flood-risk reduction standards for all federally funded projects;
  • Launches an effort to create sustainable and resilient hospitals in the face of climate change through a public-private partnership with the healthcare industry;
  • Maintains agricultural productivity by delivering tailored, science-based knowledge to farmers, ranchers, and landowners; and helps communities prepare for drought and wildfire by launching a National Drought Resilience Partnership and by expanding and prioritizing forest- and rangeland- restoration efforts to make areas less vulnerable to catastrophic fire; and
  • Provides climate preparedness tools and information needed by state, local, and private-sector leaders through a centralized “toolkit” and a new Climate Data Initiative.

Working Internationally to Address Global Climate Change

The administration’s plan:

  • Commits to expand major new and existing international initiatives, including bilateral initiatives with China, India, and other major emitting countries;
  • Leads global sector public financing towards cleaner energy by calling for the end of U.S. government support for public financing of new coal-fired powers plants overseas, except for the most efficient coal technology available in the world’s poorest countries, or facilities deploying carbon capture and sequestration technologies; and
  • Strengthens global resilience to climate change by expanding government and local community planning and response capacities.

Response to the Plan

The White House announcement prompted qualified but generally favorable responses from power industry and business groups:

  • Edison Electric Institute President Tom Kuhn said the nation’s shareholder-owned electric companies want to ensure that any new policies or regulations to curb carbon emissions from existing power plants “contain achievable compliance limits and deadlines, minimize costs to customers, and are consistent with the industry’s ongoing investments to transition to a cleaner generating fleet and enhanced electric grid. It is also critical that fuel diversity and support for clean energy technologies be maintained, not hindered.”
  • National Grid President Tom King remarked “National Grid has long supported federal legislation as a comprehensive means to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, in the absence of federal legislation, we support EPA moving forward with greenhouse gas regulations under the Clean Air Act. “
  • An American Electric Power spokesperson noted:  “The president appears to be taking a balanced approach to addressing the issue. The focus on resilience, clean coal technologies, electric vehicles, and energy efficiency and transmission investment demonstrates that the Administration is looking at a full portfolio of actions to address the issue–not just cutting emissions from power plants.”
  • The Business Roundtable noted that “The president’s proposals today are a mix of commonsense steps we can all support – such as increasing energy efficiency across all sectors of the economy – and measures that will require additional careful attention to ensure they can be deployed in an equitable and effective global framework.”
  • Republican congressional leaders responded with sharp criticisms of the president’s plan.    House Majority Leader John Boehner released a statement noting “These policies, rejected even by the last Democratic-controlled Congress, will shutter power plants, destroy good-paying American jobs and raise electricity bills,”  Senator Linda Murkowski, ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Commerce Committee, criticized the proposal, asserting that “The central feature of the president’s climate agenda is command-and-control regulations that will drive up energy costs for all Americans. This is exactly the opposite of what we should be seeking from our energy and environmental policies.”

Additional Reading

 

Guest Contributor

IEEE-USA is an organizational unit of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. (IEEE), created in 1973 to support the career and public policy interests of IEEE’s U.S. members. IEEE-USA is primarily supported by an annual assessment paid by U.S. IEEE Members.

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