Obama unveils climate change action plan

By Erin Voegele | June 25, 2013

On June 25, President Obama laid out his three-part plan to address climate change during a speech at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.  Scientific measurements accumulated and reviewed over decades tell us our plant is changing in ways that will have profound impacts on all of human kind, he said.

“The 12 warmest years in recorded history have all come in the last 15 years,” Obama continued. “Last year temperatures in some areas of the ocean reached record highs, and ice in the Artic shrank to its smallest size on record, faster than most models had predicted it would. These are facts. Now, we know that no single weather event is caused solely by climate change. Droughts and fires and floods, they go back to ancient times, but we also know that in a world that is warmer than it used to be. All weather events are affected by a warming planet.”

During his speech, Obama also noted that 97 percent of scientists—including some that have previously disputed climate change data—have now acknowledged the plant is warming and human activity is contributing to it. “The question now is whether we will have the courage to act before it is too late,” he continued. “How we answer will have a profound impact of the world we leave behind.”

“As a president, as a father, and as an American, I am here to say we need to act,” Obama said. “I refuse to condemn your generation and future generations to a planet that is beyond fixing. And, that is why today, I am I announcing a new national climate action plan, and I’m here to enlist your generation’s help in keeping the United States of America a…global leader in the fight against climate change.”

The first part of the three-part plan includes actions directed at cutting carbon pollution in America. The second component of the president’s action plan aims to prepare the United States for the impacts of climate change, while the third calls for our nation to leads global efforts to address climate change.

A key component of the first part of the plan is to reduce carbon pollution from power plants, which currently account for approximately one-third of all domestic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. While more than 35 states have established renewable energy targets, and more than 25 have set energy efficiency targets, to date no federal standards have been put in place to reduce carbon emissions from power plants. Under the plan, Obama is issuing a Presidential Memorandum directing the U.S. EPA to work expeditiously to complete carbon pollution standards for both new and existing power plants. The standards will build on prior efforts to develop GHG and fuel economy standards for cars and trucks.

According to the action plan, the U.S. more than doubled electrical generation from renewable sources during Obama’s first term. The president is aiming to double renewable energy generation once again by 2020. To help achieve that target, the Department of the Interior has been directed to approve 10 GW of new renewable capacity by 2020. The plan also notes the Department of Defense is committed to deploying 3 GW of renewable energy on military installations by 2025, including solar, wind, biomass and geothermal. Federal agencies are also setting a new goal to reach 100 MW of installed renewable capacity across the federally subsidized housing stock by 2020.

The plan also addressed the fiscal year (FY) 2014 budget request, which increases clean energy technology by 30 percent across all agencies. It includes investment in a wide range of technologies, including advanced biofuels. Under the plan, the administration will also conduct a Quadrennial Energy Review, led by the White House Domestic Policy Council and Office of Science and Technology Policy with support by a secretariat established at the Department of Energy.

Regarding the transportation sector, the plan calls for further increase fuel economy standards for heavy-duty trucks. The plan also states that “biofuels have an important role to play in increasing our energy security, fostering rural economic development, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector.” The action plan reaffirms the administration’s support of the renewable fuel standard (RFS) and notes the government is investing in research and development to help bring next-generation biofuels online. In addition to biofuels, the plan calls for the administration to continue to leverage partnerships between the private and public sectors to deploy advanced batteries and fuel cell technologies.

Obama’s plan also aims to establish new energy efficiency standards, reduce barriers to energy efficiency investments and expand the Better Buildings Challenge. In addition, the plan addresses GHG emissions other than carbon dioxide, including hydrofluorocarbons and methane. To reduce methane, the EPA will work with the USDA, DOE, Department of the Interior, Department of Labor and Department of Transportation to develop a comprehensive, interagency methane strategy. “Across the economy, there are multiple sectors in which methane emissions can be reduced, from goal mines and landfills to agriculture and oil and gas development,” states the administration in the plan, noting that the EPA and USDA have worked with the dairy industry over the past three years to increase the use of methane digesters.

The plan also specifies that the administration is working to identify new approaches to protect and restore U.S. forests, noting that conservation and sustainable management can help ensure forests remove carbon from the atmosphere, while also reducing the risk of wildfire and improving soil and water quality.

The federal government is tasked with taking the lead under the plan. By 2020, the action plan calls for the federal government to get 20 percent of the electricity it consumes from renewable resources. These agencies will also continue to implement energy efficiency measures.

The Biomass Power Association has spoken out in support of Obama’s climate change initiative. “With the administration’s support, the biomass industry can make a lasting contribution to the nation's energy portfolio while helping reduce the harmful emissions that contribute to climate change. As a baseload renewable energy source, biomass can and should play a crucial role in generating reliable electricity from organic materials that would otherwise remain unused,” said Bob Cleaves, president and CEO of BPA. “One of the administration’s action items is to support the Department of Defense, the nation’s single largest consumer of energy, in its goal of deploying 3 GW of renewable energy, including biomass, on military installations by 2025. We are proud that biomass is already making progress toward this goal. A 60 MW project in Black River, N.Y., recently converted from coal to biomass by BPA member ReEnergy Holdings, has the potential to power the Fort Drum U.S. Army installation.”

The Fuels America coalition has also applauded the president’s plan. “We commend President Obama’s commitment to reducing our nation’s greenhouse gas emissions through the development and deployment of advanced transportation technologies like renewable fuel,” said the group in a statement. “The administration’s Climate Action Plan is a great blueprint for transitioning America from oil to cost-effective, homegrown alternatives.”

A full copy of the “The President’s Climate Action Plan” is available on the White House website.