Top Ten Things The President Should Announce In His Highly-Anticipated Climate Speech

On Wednesday at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, President Obama said “we have to get to work on” climate change, “the global threat of our time.”

The president has said as much many times over the last five years. His remarks on global warming under the surprisingly sweltering German sun were only a few paragraphs in a much longer speech.

Yet the White House could be preparing to back up those words with action. On Wednesday, the same day the president spoke in Germany, his top climate aide Heather Zichal said he would outline “commonsense” climate actions in the next several weeks. “He is serious about making it a second-term priority,” she said. With Congressional action on even uncontroversial energy efficiency legislation an uncertain thing, the White House will likely focus on steps that require only executive action.

The executive branch has already taken action on things like: issuing an endangerment finding on carbon pollution, adopting stronger vehicle fuel economy standards, investing billions in renewable energy grants and research as well as updating efficiency standards and the electricity grid. Earlier this month, Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced an agreement to push the world to phase down the super pollutants known as HFCs. But there is much more to do.

Here are some things that should be included in any climate package unveiled by the president this year:

Move forward swiftly to regulate carbon pollution from new power plants. The 2007 Supreme Court decision that the EPA is required to regulate carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act led to a 2009 official “Endangerment Finding” that CO2 is a threat to public health. EPA issued draft rules to regulate carbon from new power plants in March of 2012. The already-delayed rules have been delayed since then, following 2.7 million public comments and concerns from critics that the rules treat natural gas and coal too similarly. Obama could announce that EPA is strengthening the rules and moving forward with their implementation ASAP.

Release draft carbon regulations for existing power plants. John Broder reported in the NY Times that senior officials said Obama was “preparing regulations limiting carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants.” Juliet Eilperin noted that the president has yet to decide whether to go forward with this. The rules, like those for new sources, would be complex and existing source rules will be more comprehensive by definition. But 40 percent of U.S. carbon emissions come from electric power plants and Obama could take a serious step toward reducing that carbon pollution by announcing the swift release of draft rules for existing plants. The process takes long enough that he needs to act very soon in order to have them in place by 2016.

Ordering all agencies to incorporate the cost of carbon pollution into NEPA analyses. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires all federal agencies to take into account and make public the total environmental impact of their decisions on projects and actions. There were reports in March that the president would order federal agencies to take greenhouse gases and climate impacts into account when conducting NEPA reviews. This means both how a project would cause more emissions and how it could be impacted by future climate impacts like extreme heat, flooding, and sea level rise. It would not halt a project on its own, but resulting legal actions from affected parties could affect both mitigation and adaptation. As a recent analysis by CAP noted, it is possible that incorporating the cost of carbon pollution and the impact of climate change into these decisions might even streamline the process. The government recently updated the calculations for the actual social cost of carbon pollution, and ideally in any true cost-benefit analysis, that real economic cost would be incorporated into every decision. Obama could start by including the cost of carbon into NEPA analyses.

Telling the Army Corps of Engineers to take carbon emissions into account for planning decisions. On Tuesday, acting regulatory head of the Army Corps of Engineers Jennifer Moyer testified before a subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. She told them that the Corps would not review the climate impacts of coal exports. Despite requests from leaders in the Pacific Northwest and environmental organizations, and the fact that coal exported through planned export terminals will mostly be burned in Asia, the Corps said it would limit its focus to activities within the U.S. Representative Henry Waxman told Moyer that “I think the Corps is making a big mistake.” The president could weigh in and work to ensure that the total ramifications of exporting millions of tons of coal are considered by the Corps.

Finalize an international climate protection treaty. The 2011 United Nations climate talks in Durban, South Africa concluded with an agreement to begin negotiating a new international climate treaty, with a deadline in 2015. Obama could actively participate in negotiating this treaty, which would include all countries within the framework, including developing countries. Including all countries in emissions reductions targets removes a central plank of many critics’ arguments against an international treaty.

Pull the trigger on strong appliance efficiency standards. The Obama administration has been moving at a “glacial pace” to enact critical efficiency standards for electric motors, external power supplies, lighting, and commercial refrigerators. These standards are critical because, according to the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, delays implementing the standards have so far built in a $4.4 billion cost on consumers and 44 million metric tons of additional CO2 emissions. Much of the cost and emissions have not taken place but are inevitable because for every month of delay, millions more inefficient products are locked into the system, potentially used for many years. The office that has largely been the source of the delay is Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), which reviews all rules proposed by agencies. In the last few months, the administration has completed the overdue standards on microwaves and distribution transformers. Still, the remaining overdue appliance standards cost consumers $200 million per month and 3 million metric tons of additional CO2 emissions.

Tell the country that the Keystone XL Pipeline is not in America’s national interest. There are many reasons — the pipeline will only create 35 permanent jobs, judging from the Southern Leg’s track record it will spill, and the oil will be piped to refineries that will likely export a great deal of it. But the most important reason is that tar sands production through the Keystone XL pipeline will emit the equivalent of 51 coal plants’ worth of carbon emissions

Use appropriate federal lands and waters to support clean energy deployment. Earlier this year, CAP noted that the president could act to increase the use of public lands for clean energy development and scale back the fossil fuel extraction that currently happens at an alarming rate on lands owned by American taxpayers. “The Department of the Interior already met the president’s goal of authorizing 10,000 megawatts of renewable energy on federally managed waters and lands. The federal government should build on this success by implementing a ‘clean resources standard’ for public lands and waters. This standard would require federal land and water management agencies to ensure that 35 percent of the electricity from resources on public lands is clean and renewable — from wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, and small hydropower.”

Fully commit the federal government to renewable energy and electric vehicles. Executive Order 13514 directs: “Federal agencies to reduce greenhouse gas pollution … and leverage Federal purchasing power to support innovation and entrepreneurship in clean energy technologies.” Obama signed this in 2009, and specifically, it established a 5 percent renewable energy goal for federal agencies. The president could instruct all agencies to meet this goal by 2014. Then he could raise the goal to 10 percent in 2017 an 15 percent in 2017. This would ensure a strong market for renewable energy across the country.

Commit to push for Congressional action on many overdue energy and climate goals. Though Congress has been slow to move on energy objectives, the president could commit to using his second term to achieving some energy accomplishments that require Congressional action. Approving Gina McCarthy, the president’s pick to be the next EPA Administrator. Making the wind Production Tax Credit permanent. Passing the Master Limited Partnerships Parity Act. Passing strong efficiency legislation. Cutting expensive fossil fuel taxs. Putting a price on carbon and establishing a national clean energy standard.

While the president is unlikely to announce all of these items as elements of his climate agenda (especially the last one), this list would be good framework for serious action on climate change if it is the “global threat of our time” that “we have to get to work on.”

36 Responses to Top Ten Things The President Should Announce In His Highly-Anticipated Climate Speech

  1. Superman1 says:

    Whatever little he offers, place it in the context of what is required: >10% reductions in CO2 emissions for decades globally, and perhaps twice that much from USA. That’s the ante; much more is required!

  2. Paul Magnus says:

    move fossil fuel subsidies – 1/3 to renewable research and infrastructure, 1/3 to adaption and insurance for climate extremes, 1/3 directly back in green payments public.

    This action alone would generate a huge move away from fossil fuels, almost on its own.

  3. onyerlefty says:

    “Commonsense” climate actions equate to watered-down emissions regs and an environmental “victory”, in a backdoor exchange for Keystone XL approval.

    With U.S. coal being exported in record amounts, emissions regs accomplish next to nothing in the fight against climate change. If Obama was serious about addressing CC he would adopt a carbon tax at the source (recommended by Hansen, many others).

    Non-substantive and extremely disappointing.

  4. fj says:

    Moving the country to net zero by 2020 is much more scale appropriate to the rapidly accelerating crisis and the stuff listed would support this.

    Working lockstep with Bloomberg and to get major cities worldwide to go net zero in five years should have a major place in effective clmate action at wartime speed.

  5. fj says:

    This would include New York City class net zero transit.

  6. fj says:

    The probability is probably high that we will have traumatic climate events by 2020 and this may cut losses and provide some badly needed security.

  7. Joan Savage says:

    The ten points are a fistful of measures to mitigate the causes of climate change, largely to reduce future effects. That’s not enough.

    What stirs people are consequences already upon us. So, the President would do well to address present time needs for response and adaptation.

    He could bring forward adaptive housing and transportation, emergency management, disaster relief, and even care for refugees, at least internal refugees, like the Katrina diaspora.

    It would be smart to retrofit our highway, rail and waterway systems to handle bigger swings in temperature and moisture/dryness. That would be a benefit in the near future for stable food distribution, regardless of whatever else is waiting for us either on, or beyond, the proverbial road we are presently on.

  8. BobbyL says:

    Obama needs to show up at the international climate meeting in 2015 as he did in Copenhagen in 2009 but this time not settle for some largely meaningless voluntary agreement but demonstrate real leadership to back up his rhetoric. I think his speech in Germany was partly a message to the Chinese that they can’t simply continue to contemplate when would be a good time to reduce emissions. He has to make it clear to the Chinese that they no longer have the luxury of waiting. The consequences of further procrastination by the world’s number one carbon dioxide polluter could be unbelievably horrific.

  9. fj says:

    2015 is a long time from now.

  10. Jim in Littleton says:

    Our President is a wimp! Proof’s in the performance and so far the fossil fuel industry is burying him. “Change you can believe in,” we can only hope.

  11. John Hollenberg says:

    I don’t consider the climate speech “highly anticipated”. That would mean I think Obama is actually going to take some significant steps. Sadly, I don’t think so. My guess is a little window dressing in exchange for approving the Keystone pipeline.

  12. izmunuti says:

    This initiative deserves a prime-time speech to nation. It should address only one topic – climate change. Not mixing it in a laundry list of other initiatives will reinforce that this topic rises above others in it’s importance and urgency.

  13. Merrelyn Emery says:

    To the Chinese? Where is the US price on carbon? Where is the US solar city? ME

  14. BobbyL says:

    Meetings are already taking place in order to have a plan to sign at the 2015 meeting. Obviously Obama won’t personally be attending all these meetings over the next 2 1/2 years but I think it is critical that he shows up at the final meeting and really fights for a strong agreement that compliments the strong statements on the threat of climate change that he has been making. Importantly, the IPCC will be issuing four reports before the meeting occurs in 2015. The report on mitigation which will be issued in 2014 will probably serve as the key guideline for any agreement on emissions reduction.

  15. BobbyL says:

    I think we have reached the point where the main motivation for the Chinese to act is the scientific knowledge that if they don’t it will be disastrous. Asian cities are the most vulnerable to sea level rise as many are built on river deltas. They also need climate stabilization to feed 1.3 billion people. I would suspect this will become even more clear when the IPCC issues its report on the potential effects of climate change.

  16. Merrelyn Emery says:

    My point was that Obama should have been speaking to himself. I think you are displaying your ignorance of China and its culture which is much more science oriented than your own at present, ME

  17. Christopher S. Johnson says:

    I would add that any of these measures need to be inside the context of a 2050 goal of 80-100% reduction, nationally and internationally. If this context, story, and policy is not well understood by everybody involved, then it’s not good enough. Either we are headed for that mid-century goal or we are not.

  18. Raul M. says:

    Some organizations and agencies have an employee local to the site which whose job is to get the individuals to understand a profit motive for energy conservation. The savings on the electric bill can then be used to further change to ways that require large elec. bills. My guess is that a roof painted cool white could start a change. People would see and feel more comfort in that building and the difference in the electric funding could go a long way month after summer month.

  19. These objectives are good; let’s reduce emissions every way we can. But more needs to happen.
    CO2 will stay in the atmosphere at current levels unless the world starts putting it back where it belongs: in the soil.
    The soil is a much larger sink for carbon than the atmosphere, and carbon in soil has been severely depleted by industrial agriculture and overgrazing worldwide.

    The atmospheric pollution is very bad news, but restoring the world’s soils is all for the good.

  20. fj says:


    The climate crisis situation pretty much demands extensive rapid deployment of methods and apparatus for rapidly reducing emissions to lowest possible levels while rapidly reinventing civilization for maximum resilience in the face of accelerating climate change and risk of catastrophic events.

    It is far from clear that the conferences and meetings you describe will help facilitate this.

  21. fj says:

    Apologies, not totally accurate.

    You are describing reporting which is useful.

    But, immediate action is required to try to stabilize the situation.

  22. BobbyL says:

    I think the point is that the US has already set voluntary goals to reduce emissions and has been reducing emissions while China is still waffling about when it will start to reduce emissions. Also, there are many who say that it was China who undermined the Copenhagen conference in 2009. Considering that China is now responsible for about 36% of all CO2 emissions from energy the central focus should be on getting China to agree to reduce emissions as soon as possible. If they do it seems likely that India would be inclined to soon follow. Then we would finally be getting off square one.

  23. fj says:

    ME has good cause . . .

    There is something reassuring about working with a civilization that has been around for 5000 years:

    Reinventing Fire China with Amory Lovins

  24. fj says:

    The reporting and agreements are nice but the simple extremely urgent idea is:

    1. We must reduce emissions as quick as possible to minimal values.

    2. We must reinvent civilization to withstand the onslaughts and potential catastrophic events of climate change for several decades.

    3. We must restore the environment to restore a stable climate.

  25. BobbyL says:

    At the international climate meetings the world has split into three political groups: the rich developed countries of the West led by the US, the rich developing BRICS led by China, and the poor developing countries. So in Copenhagen when it came down to the nitty gritty it basically came to the US and China. In future meetings I think Obama has to make the point that the US is willing to do more to reduce emissions but the Chinese also have to reduce their emissions (although not as much as the US initially). We need to have reductions of emissions very soon by China, India, Brazil, Russia, and South Africa to have any real chance of dealing with the problem.

  26. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Bobby, the situation is far more complex than that, both in regard to China-USA emissions and the negotiations, as has been aired on these pages many times before, ME

  27. fj says:

    Just like it is good business practice to cut costs by reducing waste and increasing efficiency, the same for reinventing cities, states and countries.

    So, there is plenty of incentive for very aggressive unilateral action by the US, China and others to go net zero at wartime speed.

    The fossil fuel industry is a major drain and liability for environmental systems and the world economy and must rapidly divest from fossil fuels to continue.

    So it is sham politics to continue business as usual bilking the people of this planet while putting them in grave danger.

  28. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    ‘Highly anticipated’ for over five years, but ‘hugely disappointed’ in reality.

  29. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    I like this idea. A definite ‘win-win’.

  30. fj says:

    And the need to discuss and for agreements are action denier delaying tactics part and parcel of the entire sham.

  31. fj says:

    Brinkmanship of the extreme kind.

  32. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Plant millions of things native to the area supplemented where necessary by plants that fix nitrogen. Use all the old methods that proved themselves over millenia, ME

  33. mulp says:

    Yeah, let’s tell Obama what HE needs to do because We the People want cheap energy, low taxes, gas guzzling cars, and a free lunch, so we will vote for Republicans for Congress and State governments.

    I notice that no one tells Obama to get out the vote for green legislators…

    Or tells us to lobby for higher taxes…

  34. kindler says:

    One big one missing from your list — energy efficient buiding standards.

  35. Mark E says:

    11. Recruit members of the National Academy of Sciences to spend 2-3 days sweating shoulder-to-shoulder with the president, doing some form of disaster relief work on a regular basis (since we seem to have these disasters or a regular basis);

    Talk global warming whenever the cameras come by