On Tuesday, at 1:55 p.m. in a speech at Georgetown University, President Obama will tell the country in detail how he will address climate change during his second term.
The plan, according to senior administration officials, has three pillars: cutting carbon pollution in America, leading international efforts to cut global emissions, and preparing the U.S. for the costly impacts of climate change. President Obama will frame action as a moral obligation to do what we can for “the world we leave our children.”
Executive action remains one of the only serious avenues left to cut greenhouse gas emissions — a recent National Academy of Sciences report found that the U.S. tax code is not currently doing it, and congressional action still looks unlikely. Jay Carney, White House Press Secretary, said in his briefing Monday that the president’s view “reflects reality.” Carney said “we’ve seen Congress attempt to deal with this issue and fail to.”
On Friday, Climate Progress laid out ten steps the President could take that would make an absolute difference in reducing carbon pollution.
Here are the major elements of the climate plan that the president will discuss today:
Cutting carbon: Direct the EPA, through Presidential Memorandum, to finish carbon pollution standards for new plants (this year) and existing power plants (proposed rule in a year). Right now carbon pollution from power plants -– the largest uncontrolled domestic source of climate pollution -– is unlimited.
Increasing renewables: Set a goal to double electricity fueled by renewable energy by 2020 nationally. This will be kickstarted by a goal of 10 gigawatts’ worth of permits for renewable energy projects on public lands by 2020. Another Presidential Memorandum streamlines electric grid transmission projects across the country. Increase the federal government renewable target from the current 7.5 percent to 20 percent by 2020.
Get smarter: Conduct the first-ever Quadrennial Energy Review, focusing on infrastructure and investment. Aggregate energy data from federal facilities using the “Green Button” standard. Launch a Climate Data Initiative, which makes federal climate-related data available to the public, encouraging innovation and climate preparedness.
Fuel efficiency: The administration will develop post-2018 fuel economy standards for heavy-duty vehicles, building upon 2011’s first-ever such standards.
Appliances and buildings: Establish goal that current efficiency standards for appliances and federal buildings will reduce carbon pollution by more than 3 billion metric tons by 2030.
Efficient housing: Try innovative approaches to developing cost-effective energy delivery to multifamily housing. Federally subsidized housing stock will strive toward a goal of 100 megawatts of installed renewable capacity by 2020 as well. Find options to factor energy efficiency into the mortgage process. Expand Better Buildings Challenge to make multifamily housing more efficient.
Super pollutant cuts: Reduce emissions of super pollutant HFCs by encouraging cleaner refrigerant alternatives.
Efficient country: Reduce upfront costs by increasing efficiency loans to rural utilities and farmers.
Methane corked: Discover how much methane is leaking into the atmosphere and pursue solutions across federal and state governments and the private sector.
“Advanced fossil energy”: Loosen $8 billion in loan guarantees for “advanced fossil energy projects.” The goal is to cut emissions through efficiency or eliminating consumption, yet it remains an investment in continued greenhouse gas emissions.
Deforestation: Promote forest conservation in the U.S. and abroad.
Climate-resilient investments: Promote building and planning for the impacts of extreme weather at federal and local levels. Direct agencies to integrate climate risk-management into infrastructure and resource planning. Rebuild from storms like Sandy in a climate-resilient manner.
Understanding climate resilience: Identify how climate change impacts agriculture, ecosystem conservation, tourism, natural resources, health care, insurance, and safety. Work with local stakeholders to arrive at solutions and precautions, such as taking sea level rise into account when forming flood risk reduction standards.
Addressing climate on a global scale: Lead bilateral and multilateral efforts with countries around the globe to cut emissions and address climate change. Continue to support low emission development strategies. Support developing countries with investments in clean energy sources, or more efficient fossil fuel plants when necessary.
UN treaty: Seek a global climate agreement in 2015 that is ambitious, inclusive and flexible.
Some of these are new policy proposals, and some refer to important delayed policy options that, if enacted, would have a measurable impact on U.S. carbon emissions. Others are more of a recommitment to do things the government was already doing, while still others appear to be well-meaning procedural window-dressing.
The plan also continues the embrace of natural gas as a “bridge fuel” even though indications (for instance, from NOAA) warn that methane leakage undermines many of the benefits of the cleaner-than-coal fuel. Promises within the plan to promote nuclear energy and “clean coal” are similarly indicative of an all-of-the-above strategy that has one foot in the energy sources of the past, even as it takes steps toward a clean energy economy paired with serious carbon reductions.
So which is it? Dan Lashof of the National Resources Defense Council said the plan was a critical part of tackling the American carbon footprint: “This plan takes aim at the heart of the problem: the dangerous carbon pollution from our power plants. Reducing that pollution is the most important step we can take, as a nation, to stand up to climate change.”
Others were not as enthusiastic. Coal stock shares dropped yesterday. Sarah Palin tweeted that the speech would feature something called an “anti-Made in America energy mandate.” John Boehner labeled the plan “absolutely crazy” several days before details even emerged.
On paper, the plan, if implemented quickly and decisively (which means also supported by a robust legal and public defense against the certain fusillade from Republican and industry groups), could be fairly consequential given the realities of current congressional dysfunction. Whether or not Keystone XL is approved, the U.S. needs to cut emissions a great deal, and there are things in the plan that could kickstart that process. To roll back carbon pollution with the intent of avoiding catastrophic global warming will require more.
The only thing to do is listen to the president give his full speech. Watch the livestream here and weigh in with your reactions.