Young climate-change activists at Georgetown University express their views
ahead of President Obama's speech.
President Obama's plans for controlling greenhouse gas emissions and expanding renewable energy being announced today go farther than any policy moves thus far. That alone ought to be reason for modest cheering after more than two decades of industry-favored federal stone-walling on the issue. Which goes to show just how eager eco-activists are to see any
forward motion on policies in which climate change is explicitly mentioned. Much of the discussion in the plan is about projects and policies already under way, such as the expansion of renewable energy projects on public land since 2009.
But one unexpected possibility is what Obama may say about the Keystone XL pipeline:
President Barack Obama will ask the State Department not to approve the construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline unless it can first determine that it will not lead to a net increase in greenhouse gas emissions, a senior administration official told The Huffington Post. [...]
"As the executive order on Keystone contemplates, the environmental impacts will be important criteria used in the determination of whether the Keystone pipeline application will ultimately be approved at the completion of the State Department decision process," said the senior administration official. "In today’s speech, the president will make clear that the State Department should approve the pipeline only if it will not lead to a net increase in overall greenhouse gas emissions."
Obviously, that doesn't mean the White House will definitely reject the pipeline. But it offers hope to the project's foes who have been expecting the controversial conduit to be approved.
11:11 AM PT:Obama says: "The net climate impacts of this project will be absolutely critical" in determining if KeystoneXL is in "national interest."
A transcript of the speech can be found here.
Please read below the fold for some analysis of the plan.
In an analysis of the overall plan that should be read in its entirety published at the online environmental site Grist, David Roberts, the highly respected journalistic critic of U.S. climate-change policy, writes his take on Obama's loooooong-awaited speech on the subject being delivered today at Georgetown University. Here is a live link to that speech. Here is the 21-page pdf of The President's Climate Action Plan. Here are Roberts' opening paragraphs:
President Obama’s supporters, his critics, and the media all want the same thing from his climate speech today: drama. They want grand gestures, some sort of conversion narrative centered on Obama’s will to fight the climate fight. They want a “trade” for Keystone or a climate tax declaration or something about fracking, anything to fire up audiences and get clicks. Everyone has the same incentive nowadays, the green groups, the right-wing groups, the political media, they all want and need attention. In a fractured information environment, attention is money, and it’s measured in clicks. Drama gets clicks.
The Obama administration wants the opposite. It needs to reassure its environmental base and its international partners that it is working on climate change and intent on meeting its obligations. But high-profile climate drama could muck up the nomination of Gina McCarthy for EPA administrator, arouse the ire of the D.C. Circuit Court, piss off environmentalists yet again, torpedo the immigration reform effort, or, hell, just give the old white guys in the tricorner hats another excuse to march on the Mall, and aren’t we all a little tired of that? [...]
In short, Obama has concluded, rightly I think, that it is of no benefit to him to have a pitched public battle over this stuff, no matter how much greens might want one. The kinds of things he’s doing (and pledging to do) on climate don’t need legislative approval or even public support. They are bowels-of-the-bureaucracy stuff, better done than discussed. Making them the subject of heated political debate could only screw them up.
Some highlights of the plan:
• Cutting Carbon Pollution from Power Plants. The Environmental Protection Agency has already cut power-plant emissions of mercury and arsenic. The president will call for crafting carbon emissions standards for both new and existing plants. How stringent those rules will be and when they will be imposed is left up in the air. But, according to administration sources, final EPA rules on existing plants are supposed to be issued two years from now, in June 2015.
• Establishing new fuel-efficiency standards for heavy-duty trucks.
• Setting new efficiency targets for appliances and buildings to cut carbon pollution by three billion metric tons cumulatively by 2030.
• Expanding an energy-efficiency program for commercial and industrial facilities under the Better Buildings Challenge to multi-family housing.
• Developing an Interagency Methane Strategy.
• Setting a goal for the federal government to consume 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020, more than double the current 7.5 percent.
Among the comments so far:
Daniel P. Schrag, a geochemist who is the head of Harvard University’s Center for the Environment and a member of a presidential science panel that has helped advise the White House on climate change, said he hoped the presidential speech would mark a turning point in the national debate on climate change.
“Everybody is waiting for action,” he said. “The one thing the president really needs to do now is to begin the process of shutting down the conventional coal plants. Politically, the White House is hesitant to say they’re having a war on coal. On the other hand, a war on coal is exactly what’s needed.”