Obama sets new climate agenda

June 26, 2013
June 26, 2013, Wash. - President Barack Obama laid out a broad effort to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions throughout the next few years, including calling for regulation of existing coal-fired power plants within two years.


The aim of the plan is to lower U.S. emissions 17pc from 2005 levels by 2020, a goal the Obama administration has pledged to reach as part of UN climate negotiations. Obama said the U.S. needs to take action now to set an example for the rest of the world and prevent the most serious effects of climate change.

"The question now is whether we will have the courage to act before it is too late," said Obama during a speech. "How we will answer will have a profound impact on the world we leave behind not just to you but to your children and your grandchildren."

The president's plan includes dozens of steps, ranging from billions in funding for advanced coal technologies to expanding international efforts to reduce GHG emissions. But the core element is the regulation of existing power plants, which account for about one-third of U.S. emissions. Obama said it was time for the federal government "to end the limitless dumping of carbon pollution" into the atmosphere.

"It is just time for Washington to catch up with the rest of the country," he said, citing the efforts already underway in California and in northeastern states to reduce CO2 emissions from the power sector.

Obama directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to propose regulations by June 2014, with a final rule to come a year later. States would be required to submit implementation plans to EPA by June 2016.

The president's order does not say how EPA should regulate exiting units, but directs the agency, working with states and industry, to develop approaches that allow the use of market-based instruments, performance standards and other regulatory flexibilities.

Under the section of the Clean Air Act used to set the standards, EPA could issue guidance, leaving it to states to come up with plans for reducing emissions. That could allow states to create their own trading programs to meet the standards.

The Edison Electric Institute, which represents investor-owned utilities, said any regulation should include achievable compliance limits and deadlines and be consistent with the industry's ongoing investments to transition to a cleaner generating fleet.

Obama also directed EPA to finish work on standards for new power plants, which it first proposed in April 2012. Obama set a deadline of September 20 for EPA to issue a new proposal and called for a final rule in a timely fashion.

The plan is an attempt to get around Congress, which failed to pass greenhouse gas cap-and-trade legislation three years ago and now shows no signs of taking up the issue again. Republicans, who control the U.S. House, are opposed to the idea of regulating GHG emissions, with many questioning whether industrial activity is actually causing climate change.

The political reaction to the plan was predictably split down party lines.

Democrats praised the president for filling the vacuum left by Congress, while Republicans said the plan was further evidence that the president wants to bankrupt the coal industry.

The plan also calls for $8 billion in loan guarantee authority to support advanced fossil-fuel energy projects, such as generators equipped with carbon capture and storage technology, and new fuel efficiency standards for heavy duty-vehicles. Obama will direct the Department of Interior to permit an additional 10GW of renewable energy projects on public lands by 2020. The agency has already reached its previous 10GW goal, with 12.5GW worth of capacity permitted for construction since 2009.

Other aspects of the plan include - setting a goal to reduce GHG emissions by at least 3bn metric tonnes cumulatively by 2030 through efficiency standards for appliances and federal buildings, developing an interagency strategy to reduce methane emissions and expanding international efforts to address climate change.

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