Obama Makes Case For Curbing Carbon Pollution From Existing Power Plants, Also Vows To Use ‘Bully Pulpit’

The President has (finally) been talking hawkish on climate. Turns out he now realizes that is part of his job! (Duh?)

In his second inaugural address, Obama said failing to respond to the threat of climate change “would betray our children and future generations.” In his State of the Union, Obama vowed to take executive action if Congress fails to pass a climate bill.

The most important action he can take without further Congressional approval is restricting emissions from existing coal-fired power plants using his authority under the Clean Air Act.

While he didn’t announce specific plans for such regulations in the SOTU, he did make the case for them during a recent Google+ hangout:

The truth is if you produce power using old power plants, you’re going to be emitting more carbon — but to upgrade those plants, energy’s going to be a little bit more expensive, at least on the front end. At the core, we have to do something that’s really difficult for any society to do, and that is to take actions now where the benefits are coming down the road, or at least we’re avoiding big problems down the road,”

Watch it:

During the online video chat, he also said that speaking out on climate change is part of his job:

Part of my job is to use the bully pulpit to help raise people’s awareness, because if the public cares about it, eventually Congress acts. If the public doesn’t care about it, it’s very hard to get big stuff done because legislators respond to their constituents sooner or later.”

That is quite a reversal from the climate silence Obama has practiced for much of the past years — a flawed strategy that team Obama actually pushed others to adopt starting back in March 2009. Let’s hope this is all more than rhetoric, something we will find out relatively soon — when he makes the final Keystone XL tar sands pipeline decision.

18 Responses to Obama Makes Case For Curbing Carbon Pollution From Existing Power Plants, Also Vows To Use ‘Bully Pulpit’

  1. Jon Davies says:

    I still think Obama seems to be planning on gradually applying the brakes to carbon emissions: Allowing gas and oil to carry on as they are, but expecting a carbon tax or emissions regulations to slowly force a transition. With this plan, I see him letting KXL go ahead.

    CO2 is CO2, we have a budget, where it gets released from is not too important (?), what is important is that we stay within our budget. So I guess he’s hoping that oil and gas projects can still be allowed if that’s what the companies want to do, but that the market forces of a carbon tax and emission regulations will put the brakes on hard enough to stay close to our budget (optimistic I believe). He may even be expecting the pipeline to end up making a loss as a carbon tax makes it unprofitable, and essentially, a waste of time. But that’s their loss, not his.

    So, I don’t expect Obama will block KXL, I think it’s a long shot, but I also don’t think its approval is necessarily ‘game over’. If its allowed to be drained dry and all of its CO2 released then yes, but carbon taxes, emissions regulations, and market forces could bring it to a halt before long.

    The tricky part is to tax exported fossil fuels too, so that no-one wants to buy from the KXL.

    That’s how I see his approach; the wheels of Oil being allowed to keep turning, but squeezed by market forces til the pumps come to a stop.

  2. M Tucker says:

    Since “bully pulpit” was coined by President Theodore Roosevelt I think Obama should go back and read exactly how TR actually used it. In his recent travels has he once tried to “raise people’s awareness?” It doesn’t count unless it gets into the news cycle. TR new this and used it to promote public awareness and public demand. I don’t see Obama actively using the bully pulpit. He has made a few comments but I do not hear the TR bluster. I do see Republicans in Congress actively trying to take away his authority to act using the EPA. One side seems to have much more motivation. One side seems to have much more enthusiasm. One side seems to have a dedicated plan to stop all government action to in any way try to limit CO2 emissions. The other side seems feeble and timid and unsure if they really want to do that.

    It’s time for action Mr President!

  3. Jack Burton says:

    Use the Bully Pulpit? Well then, problem solved. I am sure Obama can jawbone America and the world into cutting back it’s energy use from fossil fuels. The energy companies will slow or stop new exploration and development. Canadian Tar sands will shut down. The explosion in fracking will cease. The world’s economies will adjust to new economies based on less fossil fuels and more alternative energy. The increased costs will easily be absorbed by the sinking economies of the EU, the USA and Japan. China will forgo the explosion in growth it needs to keep it’s people satisfied by constant economic growth.
    Not likely. Nobody has presented me with a rational reason and rational plan that maintains the economic growth the world’s populations demand and at the same time reduce carbon emissions.
    The green energy explosion is just not taking off. Fossil fuel companies and the politicians they purchase with money are holding up any even minor move away from fossil fuels. And the alternatives are very expensive anyways and the world’s populations are in no mood for hard austerity in order to exchange cheap and efficient fossil fuels for expensive alternatives.
    Time has pretty much run out, given the climate shifts we are seeing, and no move at all is being made to change business as usual. It is a bleak prospect we face.

  4. John McCormick says:

    I believe President Obama found his John Kennedy moment in his State of the Union.

    I take this part of Kennedy’s Inaugural Address in January, 1961:

    Can we forge against these enemies a grand and global alliance, North and South, East and West, that can assure a more fruitful life for all mankind? Will you join in that historic effort?

    In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility—I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it—and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.

    And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.

    My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

    President Obama is not just winking at us. We get him the votes and he will lift his end of the board. He is calling on us.

  5. Jon Davies says:

    I think there’s a lot more of a shift happening than you seem to be aware of. There’s been a lot of charts and reports released recently showing just how much the renewable sector is taking off.

    Also “cheap and efficient” fossil fuels are a burning fuse to worldwide humanitarian and economic disaster. So let’s make them not cheap by putting a carbon tax on them. There are ways to do this without making people worse off. Countries taking the plunge first should soon show that there is not the disaster the carbon tax doom-mongers claim. Australia and Germany and others can lead the way and then more will follow.

  6. Brian R Smith says:

    John, I don’t know about giving Obama this much credit this soon. As Joe cautions, we’re obliged to wait & see what Obama does with KXL and regulation of coal-fired plants before we get too happy about the rhetoric, though he has said enough to give hope for leadership. I don’t think he’s earned the comparison to Kennedy’s resolve yet.

    “Can we forge against these enemies a grand and global alliance, North and South, East and West, that can assure a more fruitful life for all mankind? Will you join in that historic effort?”

    Change a few words to make the subject climate change and destruction of the biosphere, and you have the clarion call that Obama could have made, but didn’t – for an historic effort, a grand alliance that includes, and relies on, all citizens. I get why he didn’t & wasn’t expecting him to. It was the SOTU, not a climate proclamation. But putting a big target on the matter and then offering only vague ideas on moving forward (more renewables; less red tape for non-renewables; executive/EPA powers; hope that congress will lead on market solutions (!))… doesn’t improve my faith that he really gets what we’re up against. Maybe next time, when further political calculations allow, he will come a little further out from under the covers. There are monsters under the bed for sure, but lets get brave. Meanwhile the alliance building is happening for the most part outside government. Tag, we’re it.

  7. Joseph Dillard says:

    There are many things about Obama I can and do criticize. Nevertheless, I am thankful that he is using more of the tools at his disposal: the bully pulpit, nominating strong people on climate like Kerry, and talking about limits on current power plant emissions, not just future ones. He is never going to satisfy us; there is simply too much that HAS to be done to avoid the iceberg. But that is OK, because of the growing new, green economic pressures at work. For example, the wind credit got extended another year because of a growing economic sector in Republican states like Iowa, Oklahoma, and Kansas. Each year, local green employers are going to hammer their state and federal elected officials more to change coding, tax law, policy, and messaging. It is the one sector of the economy (besides the banksters and global corporations) that is doing well and creating jobs. Obama knows it. That economic pressure is the major force at play that is changing this equation toward rational national policies, and it is growing world-wide. It’s a real revolution happening under our noses.

  8. BillD says:

    In my view, the bully pulpit is the most important thing that the President can do, especially when mixed in with executive action. I am concerned if he says or thinks that we just need to “tweak” existing power plants. The point is that we need to get rid of nearly all fossil fuel electricity, including natural gas. Coming from a state (IN) where something like 80% of our electricity comes from coal, I want to see our state utilities and politicians really held to the fire. It’s still really frustrating how the media minimizes or ignores that issue of the decade, century and millennium. Let’s hope that protests in Washington and the carbon tax bill draw some coverage. The next step needs to be getting the media past a fear of offending the Tea Party, conservative think tanks and other right wing groups.

  9. Mike Roddy says:

    People are still needy and battered when it comes to President Obama. Regulating existing power plants has been on the agenda for years. Obama’s decision to finally do it appears to be in response to the unexpected (to him) backlash to his speech.

    The President needs to sit down with Mann and Hansen, and learn first hand what is actually going on. He has too many filters and bad advisers, who appear to be frightening him about “the economy”. Lawyers often have little grasp of landscape scale scientific evidence and its implications.

    Mr. Obama, the economic outcomes of last fall’s Arctic melt (including Greenland) should drive you to emergency action. Sandy was just a warmup act. The world desperately needs you to lead. If you keep pointing with pride about all of our domestic drilling and mining, it means that you are worse than Bush, since we knew he wouldn’t listen. Well, so far it appears that you aren’t either. This is no time for political calculations (this is your last term, for Christ’s sake) and fears of blowback. Just do it.

  10. John McCormick says:

    The every day life of:

    A 45 mile stretch of I 95 from DC to Fredericksburg, VA is a parking lot twice each day as many thousands of commuters sit wearily waiting to get to work or home. They probably often think its time to move into Washington to end the misery but that means selling their home now undervalued and locating in a very expensive housing market. The majority are trapped in that situation until their retirement. Its their day-to-day reality.

    President Obama is stalled in the Congressional parking lot. He wants to change that condition but has few options. Executive Orders can reach only so far and are subject to litigation. Much of what is on the progressives’ list of demands require Congressional approval.

    As budget battles cut deeper into federal safety net programs and entitlements, the focus of his Administration will be near-entirely on middle class concerns. He will be stalled again by day-to-day realities.

    Until we Americans see rethugs as a party working against our interests, with their McCarthy-type attitude, there is no relief in sight for commuters, home-owners, poor, very poor, elderly and our planet.

    All of that is also on Obama’s plate.

  11. Mark E says:

    Equally important is rewriting the appraisal and lending rules for home sales, so that energy efficiency becomes just as important as location, size, and number of bedrooms

  12. Upgrading coal plants is the most interesting part, to me, because that shows he understands what baseload power generation means for American prosperity. Wind and solar and biofuels will not be capable of substituting for coal in the foreseeable future. The water impact and fugitive methane from fracking, along with the exponential depletion of gas wells, make gas unreliable. So what’s left but coal and nuclear?

  13. A.J. says:

    The question is, how serious is Obama about working on an international carbon tax? Asia is fast ramping up emissions, in part to serve manufacturing demand in the Western world. KXL ‘could’ be a disaster if it is approved and a new Kyoto-style agreement with teeth isn’t reached. Those XL bitumen products will have an easy path to a thirsty international market, and that will be accomplished with no inflation of the U.S. carbon footprint, despite O pulling the trigger. Like you say, it’s a global budget. But that may not be how many American politicians like to see it.

  14. Scott says:

    The climate deniers in Congress and the denial think tank industry should be kept on the defensive every day of the year. They should be made to explain their positions over and over until they have to give up from disgust at repeating the same lies over and over.

  15. Ken Barrows says:

    A shift? I wonder what percentage of new housing starts in the USA have solar installed? What percent use natural gas for heat (where it’s needed, of course)? What percent of new cars are not exclusively powered by liquid fuels?

    My guesses: 90%, >90%.

  16. Paul Klinkman says:

    “when Obama is referring to expanding natural gas production, he is talking about fracking”

    Fracking pumps lots and lots of methane into the atmosphere. Methane mining (natural gas is mostly methane) could be worse than coal mining as it helps to jumpstart a runaway positive feedback mechanism in our atmosphere.

    Is it better for the Republicans to deny all climate science, or for President Obama to deny that he’s actually plowing full speed ahead into catastrophic climate change? Whoa! Contradiction city!

  17. Paul Klinkman says:

    This is a spot where the climate hawks need a long caucus. We are in charge of at least knowing how things could be set right, and so all of the world’s peak power problems are ours to prepare for.

    Probably the best way to store electricity has been demonstrated by a Manitoba Hydro / Minnesota Power 100 megawatt contract. When the wind blows in South Dakota, Manitoba Hydro lets water build up behind their dams. When the wind doesn’t blow, Manitoba Hydro lets a doubled portion of water down through extra turbines and sends power south to the U.S.

  18. Mike Roddy says:

    You’re right, Scott, but I would add the media to your list.