Power News: Obama unveils Climate Action Plan



President Obama unveiled an aggressive new “Climate Action Plan” Tuesday aimed at combating climate change.  At center stage is the administration’s plan to implement new regulations that would further reduce carbon emissions from the energy sector. As anticipated by many in the industry, those efforts will include implementing for the first time new regulations capping emissions from existing power generation plants.

"As a president, as a father, as an American, I'm here to say: We need to act," Obama said during his presentation at Georgetown University. "Power plants can still dump unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into the air for free. That's not right, it's not safe, and it needs to stop."

Emphasizing that his administration viewed climate change as one of the most significant challenges for the 21st century, the president outlined key points of his new initiative including plans to establish tougher carbon pollution standards for both new and existing power plants.

The president highlighted that while carbon emissions from the energy sector have fallen, the industry was still currently responsible for 40 percent of the carbon pollution emitted in the U.S. 

Obama also spoke to his new plan aiming to again double renewable power generation by 2020 and a firm commitment to developing the nation’s natural gas resources. He stressed that development of both resources would again position the U.S. as innovators while boosting the economy through the creation of new jobs.

While the presentation barely touched on certain areas in energy development, such as fracking and nuclear power, there was mention of the long controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline.  The president said the pipeline should be approved if did not “significantly exacerbate the climate problem," leaving most to agree that the project will most likely be greenlighted.

Reactions came quickly from across the energy industry, with the renewable power sectors cheering the potential boosts to their segments and expressing strong support of the plan.

“This is our moment in time. America’s solar energy industry stands ready to do our part to help fight climate change and usher in a new era of clean energy in America and around the world” offered Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) in response to the new climate strategies.

Reactions from the oil & gas sectors were mostly mixed. The industry applauded the administration’s commitment to domestic natural gas development, but criticized plans for removing tax incentives for oil and gas production.

Meanwhile, most proponents of coal power were left again with significant concerns for their future in America’s energy mix and offered strong criticism for the president’s new initiatives.

“This is going to be a legacy issue for the President, a legacy of higher energy costs, lost jobs, and a shattered economy,” said Robert M. Duncan, President and CEO of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE).

The White House has released a fact sheet highlighting key points of the president’s new climate plan, which have been included below. For access to the full report, click here: The President’s Climate Action Plan

Key objectives of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan:

Cuts Carbon Pollution in America. In 2012, U.S. carbon pollution from the energy sector fell to the lowest level in two decades even as the economy continued to grow. To build on this progress, the Obama Administration is putting in place tough new rules to cut carbon pollution—just like we have for other toxins like mercury and arsenic —so we protect the health of our children and move our economy toward American-made clean energy sources that will create good jobs and lower home energy bills. For example, the 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.

Prepares the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change. Even as we take new steps to cut carbon pollution, we must also prepare for the impacts of a changing climate that are already being felt across the country. Building on progress over the last four years, the plan:

  •  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.

Lead International Efforts to Address Global Climate Change. Just as no country is immune from the impacts of climate change, no country can meet this challenge alone. That is why it is imperative for the United States to couple action at home with leadership internationally. America must help forge a truly global solution to this global challenge by galvanizing international action to significantly reduce emissions, prepare for climate impacts, and drive progress through the international negotiations. For example, the 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.

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