On June 25, 2013, in a speech at Georgetown University, President Obama unveiled his Climate Action Plan (CAP) which sidesteps Congress and instead focuses on executive branch action, and more specifically, U.S. EPA action in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. As part of the CAP, the President recommitted the United States to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 17% below 2005 levels by 2020 (but only if all other major economies agree to similarly limit their GHG emissions). In an effort to meet this commitment, the CAP targets, at least in part, GHG emissions from new and existing power plants.
More specifically, in the CAP, the President directs U.S. EPA to promulgate regulations that limit GHG emissions at existing power plants. The CAP also directs U.S. EPA to re-propose New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for newly constructed power plants. U.S. EPA had previously issued proposed NSPS rules in April 2012; however, U.S. EPA had missed its one-year deadline for issuing a final NSPS for new coal- and natural gas-fired utilities.
Other key elements of the President’s CAP include:
• An end to public financing of coal-fired power plants abroad that do not include carbon capture and sequestration technology, except in developing nations where no viable alternatives exists;
• Setting a target for the Department of Interior to double renewable energy production on public lands (from 10 gigawatts to 20 gigawatts) by 2020;
• Directing federal agencies to streamline the siting, permitting and review process for electricity transmission projects;
• Directing U.S. EPA and the Department of Transportation to work on a second round of heavy-duty vehicle emission limits for post-2018 model years;
• Making available up to $8 billion in loan guarantees for advanced fossil energy projects that are intended to avoid, reduce, or sequester anthropogenic emissions of GHGs;
• Directing federal agencies to ensure that new roads and other taxpayer-funded projects are built to withstand extreme weather events and anticipated rising sea levels;
• Establishing a new energy efficiency standards goal for consumer products;
• Efforts to craft a free trade agreement on environmental goods and services that will seek to lower tariffs and other market barriers;
• Initiatives to curb emissions of hydrofluorocarbons and methane; and
• Directing agencies to focus on the impacts of climate change in key sectors, including health, transportation, food supplies, oceans and coastal communities and implement strategies to mitigate the impact of climate change on these key sectors.
Both sides of the debate have weighed in on the CAP. Not surprisingly, the coal industry is critical of the CAP, with the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity noting that “taking American’s most significant source of electricity offline would have disastrous consequences for our nation’s economy.” On the other side of the fence, the Natural Resources Defense Council applauded the President, stating “the President’s commitment to set the first-ever carbon limits on power plants is an important first step … to protect Americans and future generations from the dangerous pollution fueling climate change.” However, notwithstanding the diatribe from both sides of the debate, climate change doesn’t seem to be a priority for the average U.S. citizen. Although a recent Pew Research Center poll of 37,000 respondents in 39 countries identified climate change and fiscal volatility as top global threats, in the United States, only 28% of Americans think climate change should be a top priority for the Administration. It will be interesting to see if the President is able to convince the average citizen that climate change is an important issue that needs to be addressed, especially if the President’s CAP results in increased utility bills.