Obama set to unveil climate plan

Speaking on the steps of Georgetown University’s Old North building, President Barack Obama will unveil Tuesday his plan for reducing carbon pollution and combatting climate change.

Much anticipated since Obama made climate change a central tenant of his second-term victory speech and second inaugural address, the plan works toward his 2009 goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.

The president has labeled meeting that goal and further climate targets a “moral obligation” to future generations. He is expected to speak at Georgetown at 1:55, EST.

The proposals, all executive actions outside of congressional approval, center on three primary areas:

  • reducing carbon pollution through increased standards on new and existing power plants, as well as increased investments in clean energy sources;
  • preparing steps for adapting to the effects of climate change already felt, through working with state, local and private-sector leaders to prepare communities for future extreme weather;
  • becoming a greater leader in international efforts to reduce emissions through new and existing initiatives (particularly with other major emitting countries, such as India and China), and calling for an end of U.S. financial support for overseas coal-fired power plants.

Excluded from the plan is a ruling on the Keystone XL pipeline — the controversial transcontinental project to deliver tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada into Gulf ports in Texas — that has become a rallying point for environmentalists eager to see the president act on his promises.  

During a background conference call with journalists Monday afternoon, a senior administration official said that the Keystone proposal “is not yet ready for decision,” as the state department continues to sift through the more than 1.2 million comments it received during the public comment period.

“The state department is committed to a review that’s rigorous, efficient and transparent, and will make a presidential permit determination only after thoroughly, objectively and transparently considering the issues,” the official said.

Instead of oil and pipelines, Obama is expected to target carbon and power plants, the largest source of emissions in the country. According to the 2013 draft of the National Climate Assessment Report, carbon dioxide constitutes 80 percent of current U.S. emissions.

As part of his plan, Obama is expected to issue a presidential memorandum directing the Environmental Protection Agency to implement federal carbon pollution standards for power plants. Federal standards currently exist for arsenic, mercury and lead, but so far carbon has been left unregulated. The memorandum will lay out parameters and a timeline for EPA to complete the standards before the end of Obama’s second term.

Efforts will also be put in place to further reduce other greenhouse gases, including hydrofluorocarbons and methane, and to preserve forests — a key player in removing carbon from the atmosphere.

In terms of renewable energy, Obama has set goals of doubling electricity generation from wind, solar and geothermal sources on public lands by 2020, amounting to a total of 20 gigawatts, or enough energy to power 6 million homes. The president will also seek to build off his first term’s increased fuel economy standards for vehicles, and energy efficiency standards for appliances and buildings. That includes expanding his Better Buildings Challenge, which urges commercial and industrial buildings to become 20 more energy efficient by 2020, to multi-family housing.

In addition, Obama has set aside nearly $8 billion in loans in his 2014 fiscal budget for investments in energy efficiency projects and technologies.

In the wake of 2012’s weather disasters exceeding $110 billion in aid, the president’s plan also looks to fortify the nation’s resilience to future extreme weather events. That includes directing federal agencies to re-examine policies and programs to ensure they promote climate resiliency, and working with leaders at all levels to develop climate preparedness strategies and projects.

Other parts of the plan will look to identify vulnerabilities to climate-change impacts in the energy sector; conserving natural resources, agricultural sustainability and managing drought, wildfire and flood risks; and making climate-related data publicly available through a Climate Data Initiative and a virtual climate-resilience toolkit.

On the international scene, Obama will seek for the U.S. government and other nations to end financial support for the construction of overseas coal-fired power plants, with exceptions made for plants using carbon-capture technologies, and in cases of the world’s poorest countries where economically feasible alternatives are few.

Additionally, the plan calls for the U.S. to launch negotiations to establish free trade of environmental goods and services (clean energy technologies, engineering and consulting services, etc.) by lowering tariffs and eliminating other market barriers.

Check back at Eco Catholic later in the afternoon for updates and quotes from Obama’s speech.

[Brian Roewe is an NCR staff writer. His email address is broewe@ncronline.org.]