President Obama Takes Executive Action on Climate Change

President Obama
President Barack Obama introduces the idea of a national climate policy in a short video (Image courtesy The White House)


WASHINGTON, DC, June 25, 2013 (ENS) – President Barack Obama today will present his three-pronged plan to deal with climate change – reduce carbon emissions, prepare the United States for the impacts of climate change, and lead global efforts to fight it.

The plan is based solely on executive actions the President can take without Congressional approval. By setting forth this type of plan, President Obama is demonstrating that he believes it will not be possible to get climate legislation through Congress during his second term.

President Obama
President Barack Obama introduces the idea of a national climate policy in a short video (Image courtesy The White House)

Many Republicans in Congress have made their denial of climate change an article of faith. But President Obama believes that with regard to climate change, “America stands at a critical juncture,” the White House said today in a statement explaining the President’s climate plan.

“Climate change is no longer a distant threat – we are already feeling its impacts across the country and the world,” the White House said.

“Last year was the warmest year ever in the contiguous United States and about one-third of all Americans experienced 10 days or more of 100-degree heat. The 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15 years.”

“Asthma rates have doubled in the past 30 years and our children will suffer more asthma attacks as air pollution gets worse,” said the White House. “And increasing floods, heat waves, and droughts have put farmers out of business, which is already raising food prices dramatically.”

“These changes come with far-reaching consequences and real economic costs. Last year alone, there were 11 different weather and climate disaster events with estimated losses exceeding $1 billion each across the United States. Taken together, these 11 events resulted in over $110 billion in estimated damages, which would make it the second-costliest year on record,” the White House said in its statement.

Cutting Greenhouse Gas Emissions

To cut emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, President Obama is issuing a Presidential Memorandum that directs the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to “expeditiously” complete carbon emission standards for both new and existing power plants.

“Power plants are the largest concentrated source of emissions in the United States, together accounting for roughly one-third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions. We have already set limits for arsenic, mercury, and lead, but there is no federal rule to prevent power plants from releasing as much carbon pollution as they want,” the White House said.

power plant
Greenhouse gases rise from the Cumberland coal-fired power plant operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority, an agency of the U.S. government. (Photo by TVA)

“This work will build on the successful first-term effort to develop greenhouse gas and fuel economy standards for cars and trucks,” the plan states.

In developing the standards, the President has asked the EPA “to build on state leadership, provide flexibility, and take advantage of a wide range of energy sources and technologies, including many actions in this plan.”

During the President’s first term, the United States more than doubled generation of electricity from wind, solar, and geothermal sources. Today Obama will set a goal to double renewable electricity generation again by 2020.

To achieve this goal, the plan calls for accelerating clean energy permitting, expanding and modernizing the electric grid, spurring investment in advanced fossil energy projects, and instituting a new federal energy review every four years.

President Obama believes that the federal government must lead, so his plan establishes a new goal. The federal government will get 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020 – more than double the current goal of 7.5 percent.

During Obama’s first term, federal agencies reduced greenhouse gas emissions by more than 15 percent – the equivalent of permanently removing 1.5 million cars from U.S. roads.

To strengthen efforts to promote energy efficiency, the Administration will initiate a partnership with the private sector to develop a standardized contract that will increase access to capital markets to finance federal energy efficiency investments.

And the Administration will leverage the “Green Button” standard, which aggregates energy data in a secure, easy to use format within federal facilities to increase their ability to manage energy consumption, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and meet sustainability goals.

Building Resilience Across America

Building a more resilient America is a key component of the President’s climate plan. The Department of Defense, for example, is assessing the vulnerability of its coastal facilities to climate change.

The plan recognizes that, “By necessity, many states, cities, and communities are already planning and preparing for the impacts of climate change. Hospitals must build capacity to serve patients during more frequent heat waves, and urban planners must plan for the severe storms that infrastructure will need to withstand.”

The President will direct federal agencies to identify and remove barriers to making climate-resilient investments; identify and remove counterproductive policies that increase vulnerabilities; and encourage and support smarter, more resilient investments, including through agency grants, technical assistance, and other programs, in sectors from transportation and water management to conservation and disaster relief.

Agencies will be directed to ensure that climate risk-management considerations are fully integrated into federal infrastructure and natural resource management planning. To begin, the U.S. EPA is committing to integrate considerations of climate change impacts and adaptive measures into major programs, including its Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds and grants for brownfields cleanup. The Department of Housing and Urban Development is already requiring grant recipients in the region affected by Hurricane Sandy last October to take sea-level rise into account.

The President will establish a short-term task force of state, local, and tribal officials to advise on key actions the federal government can take to better support local preparedness and resilience-building efforts.

Federal agencies will continue to provide targeted support to help communities prepare for climate-change impacts. Throughout 2013, for example, the Federal Highway Administration is working with 19 state and regional partners and other federal agencies to assess the vulnerability of local transportation infrastructure to climate change and extreme weather and upgrade resilience.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology will convene a panel on disaster-resilience standards to develop a comprehensive, community-based resilience framework and provide guidelines for consistently safe buildings and infrastructure. These standards can inform the development of private-sector standards and codes.

In addition, the President’s FY 2014 Budget proposes $200 million through the Transportation Leadership Awards program for Climate Ready Infrastructure in communities that build enhanced preparedness into their planning efforts, and that have proposed or are ready to break ground on infrastructure projects, including transit and rail, to improve resilience.

Under the President’s plan help is on the way for survivors of Hurricane Sandy, which cut a wide swath through the Atlantic Seaboard and New England states on October 29.

In August 2013, President Obama’s Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force will deliver to the President a rebuilding strategy to be implemented in Sandy-affected regions and establishing precedents that can be followed elsewhere. The Task Force is hosting a regional “Rebuilding by Design” competition to generate innovative solutions to enhance resilience.

In the transportation sector, the Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration is dedicating $5.7 billion to four of the area’s most impacted transit agencies, of which $1.3 billion will be allocated to locally prioritized projects to make transit systems more resilient to future disasters.

To build coastal resilience, the Department of the Interior will launch a $100 million competitive grant program to foster partnerships and promote resilient natural systems while enhancing green spaces and wildlife habitat near urban populations.

An additional $250 million will be allocated to support projects for coastal restoration and resilience across the region.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is conducting a $20 million study to identify strategies to reduce the vulnerability of Sandy-affected coastal communities to future large-scale flood and storm events, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will strengthen long-term coastal observations and provide technical assistance to coastal communities.

Spurring International Action

In 2009, President Obama launched the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate with 17 countries that account for some 75 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, to support international climate negotiations and encourage cooperative action.

“We are proposing that the Forum build on these efforts by launching a major initiative this year focused on further accelerating efficiency gains in the buildings sector, which accounts for approximately one-third of global carbon pollutions from the energy sector,” the White House said, describing the President’s plan.

Short-lived climate pollutants such as methane, black carbon, and many HFCs have more potent greenhouse effects than carbon dioxide. In February 2012, the United States launched the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollution, which has grown to include more than 30 country partners. Major efforts include reducing methane and black carbon from waste and landfills.

The U.S. is also leading through the Global Methane Initiative, which works with 42 partner countries and a network of more than 1,100 private sector participants to reduce methane emissions.

Part of the plan is to work towards “reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation,” because greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation, agriculture, and other land uses constitute roughly one-third of global emissions.

Burning natural gas is about one-half as carbon-intensive as coal, which can make it a critical “bridge fuel” for many countries as the world transitions to even cleaner sources of energy, the plan states. The Administration will promote fuel-switching from coal to gas for electricity production and encourage the development of a global market for gas. “Since heavy-duty vehicles are expected to account for 40 percent of increased oil use through 2030, we will encourage the adoption of heavy duty natural gas vehicles as well.”

The United States will continue to promote the “safe and secure use of nuclear power worldwide” and also will promote clean coal technologies around the world.

The U.S. will work with trading partners to launch negotiations at the World Trade Organization towards global free trade in environmental goods, including clean energy technologies such as solar, wind, hydro and geothermal. The U.S. will build on the 2011 consensus it reached among the 21 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, APEC, economies in this area.

The International Energy Agency estimates that the phase-out of fossil fuel subsidies – which amount to more than $500 billion every year globally – would lead to a 10 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions below business as usual by 2050.

At the 2009 G-20 meeting in Pittsburgh, the United States successfully advocated for a commitment to phase out these subsidies and has since won similar commitments in other fora such as APEC.

President Obama is calling for the elimination of U.S. fossil fuel tax subsidies in his Fiscal Year 2014 budget, and he will continue to collaborate with partners around the world toward this goal.

U.S. Environmental Groups Support Obama’s Efforts

Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said, “Combating climate change means curbing carbon pollution – for the first time ever – from the biggest single source of such dangerous gases: our coal-fired power plants. We stand ready to help President Obama in every way we can.”

The Environmental Defense Action Fund will begin running television ads in eight states and Washington, DC on Wednesday to encourage public support for President Obama’s ambitious climate change initiative. The ads highlight the dangerous and costly impacts of climate change, and call on Congress to support the new proposals, including rules limiting carbon pollution from power plants.

“The President is taking ambitious action to give our children and grandchildren a better future. We intend to be just as ambitious in supporting his proposals against attacks in Washington, D.C.,” said Elizabeth Thompson, president of Environmental Defense Action Fund.

“Make no mistake, there are well-funded interest groups that are going to try to block these common sense pollution limits,” said Thompson. “And apparently some Members of Congress think there should be no limits at all on this kind of pollution from its largest source.”

Eileen Claussen, president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, said, “President Obama is laying out a credible, comprehensive strategy to use the tools at his disposal to strengthen the U.S. response to climate change. His plan recognizes that the costs of climate change are real and rising, and that to minimize them we must both cut our carbon output and strengthen our climate resilience. Putting these critical issues before the American public is itself a step forward. But it will require continued presidential leadership to translate the plan’s good intentions into concrete policy.”

“The most cost-effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is for Congress to enact an economy-wide price on carbon. As long as Congress is unwilling to act, the President is right to use his powers under the Clean Air Act to curb emissions from power plants, by far the largest unregulated source of U.S. carbon emissions.”

Bill McKibben, founder of the nonprofit climate advocacy group, told his supporters in an email, “If this were a race, you can think of this speech as the starter’s pistol, after a long slog to get the runners all lined up. There is still a race yet to run. Your hard work made this possible. Given the siege of extreme weather we now see daily around the planet, it’s one of many steps we need to take. But it is in the right direction, and that’s good news.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2013. All rights reserved.

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