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June 26, 2013
President kicks off Climate Action Plan

Taking off his jacket and rolling up his shirtsleeves under a brutal Georgetown sun, President Obama delivered an address on the administration’s sweeping new Climate Action Plan.  The address contained many general statements and a few specific steps.  Significantly for energy sector, the president said the EPA would move forward on regulating CO2 emissions from new and existing power plants. 

The Agency has already proposed new source performance standards (NSPS) that, if made final as proposed, will effectively block the new construction of traditionally designed coal-fired plants.  Technically, the Clean Air Act (CAA) also provides the EPA the authority to regulate carbon emissions from existing plants, but the CAA section believed by most to provide that authority is very short, largely untested, and emphatically not written by Congress to deal with the most significant environmental challenge of this generation.

Congress and McCarthy
The president noted that since 2006, the Unites States has cut more carbon pollution than any other nation, but more needs to be done.  He repeated throughout his speech that those in Congress who believe regulation of carbon will ruin the U.S. economy and kill jobs cannot point to precedents for such a collapse in the major regulatory initiatives that have occurred since the signing of the Clean Air Act by President Nixon in 1970.

The president also called on the Senate to approve the appointment of Gina McCarthy as EPA Administrator, and said her approval is being held up lawmakers who believe the federal government should not take regulatory action to control climate change.

International action
The multiple areas addressed by the President include international action and cooperation on climate change.  In one of the more specific statements, the president said the administration would no longer finance the construction of coal fired power plants in other nations unless there were no practical options.  Instead the U.S. plan is to assist these nations in transitioning to natural gas as the major energy source.

The president also wants the Unites States to take the lead in an effort to toward a global agreement on climate change.  He mentioned that bilateral initiatives involving India, and China, and the other major GHG emitting nations were needed to make this effort work.  The president said the recent agreement between the Unites States and China to work together and with other countries to phase down the consumption and production of heat-trapping hydrofluorocarbons (HFC) was a step in the right direction. 

Keystone pipeline
Regarding the Keystone XL pipeline, the president said the Department of State is still deliberating on whether the project is in the national interest.  But he emphasized that the administration would not approve a project that would worsen the climate problem.  Critics of the pipeline contend that development of oil sands in Alberta, Canada, will release massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.

More of the plan
A fact sheet released by the White House in conjunction with the speech lists the following additional elements in the president’s plan:

  • Direct the Department of Interior to permit enough renewable projects, mainly solar and wind, on public land by 2020 to power more than 6 million homes.
  • Make 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.
  • Expand the 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.
  • Commit to partnering with industry and stakeholders to develop fuel economy standards for heavy-duty vehicles to further reduce reliance on foreign oil and fuel consumption post-2018. 
  • Leverage new opportunities to reduce emissions of HFCs and direct agencies to develop a comprehensive methane strategy.
  • Maintain agricultural productivity by delivering tailored, science-based knowledge to farmers, ranchers, and landowners; and help 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.
  • Undertake multiple actions to make the U.S. resistant to the effects of climate change, including removing barriers blocking local communities from making climate-resistant investments; launch innovative strategies such as flood-risk reduction in areas affected by Hurricane Sandy; and provide climate preparedness tools to state, local, and private-sector leaders through a centralized “toolkit” and a new Climate Data Initiative.

CAA Section 111(d)
Regarding regulation of existing power plants, CAA section 111(d) authorizes the EPA to develop standards of performance for existing sources of any pollutant that is neither a criteria air pollutant nor a hazardous air pollutant covered under section 112.  Section 111(d) also specifies that the Agency must allow the states to develop their own plans to meet or exceed the federal standards.  The section gives the EPA the authority to approve any state plan and replace it with a federal plan if the standards are not met. 

The president said many states and cities are already exceeding actions the administration has taken to improve energy efficiency, promote renewables, and fight climate change.  It’s up to the federal government to follow their example, said the president.

The fact sheet on the president’s address and the Climate Action Plan is at http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/06/25/fact-sheet-president-obama-s-climate-action-plan.

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