Differing Viewpoints on the President’s Climate Plan Emerge

Barack Obama unveiled a plan that would be “a coordinated assault on a changing climate” on June 25th at Georgetown University.  The national plan emphasizes three strategies—reducing carbon emissions in the United States, expanding and increasing international engagement on the issue, and preparing local communities for the impacts of climate change, says Bloomberg.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will be tasked with limiting the amount of carbon dioxide that power plants produce. The EPA was already working on such a rule for new plants; the president wants it done by September 20th.

Mr. Obama also wants rules that curb emissions from existing plants by summer 2014.  Power plants expel nearly 40% of America’s greenhouse gases, and right now aren’t subjected to any restrictions. New rules could, in theory, make a substantial dent in America’s contribution to global warming, according to the Economist.

Without mandated cuts in emissions from American power plants, which Mr. Obama will address via executive orders, there is little hope that the United States can meet established goals, says the New York Times.  The centerpiece of the plan does not require Congressional approval.

In addition, the president ordered the strengthening of fuel-economy standards for trucks and buses, on top of the increases for all vehicles adopted in his first term. He offered $8 billion in loan guarantees for the deployment of technologies that make fossil fuels less harmful to the climate, such as carbon capture.

He promised to promote renewable power by encouraging the construction of wind farms and solar arrays on federal lands, by requiring government agencies to obtain more of their own power from such sources and by streamlining permits for a more efficient electricity grid.

There was also some talk of curbing leaks of natural gas, managing forests to trap more carbon, and phasing out HFCs (chemicals used in air-conditioners and fridges that are especially potent greenhouse gases).

Some thought Mr. Obama would approve Keystone XL, a pipeline for carrying Canadian oil to American refineries. Instead, he said the pipe could go ahead only if it “does not significantly exacerbate” carbon pollution—a high hurdle for oil from tar sands.

The new rules are supposed to lower US greenhouse-gas emissions to 17% below the level of 2005 by 2020.  America’s emissions have been falling, but they are only 7% below the level of 2005.

Green groups say that Mr. Obama’s plan could propel America most of the way to its target.

There is uncertainty as to whether the EPA can adopt trading schemes and other market-based mechanisms to spur cuts. Even if the rules survive in court, a future administration could reverse them, as the Bush White House did in 2005 with a Clinton-era mercury ruling.

Mr. Obama argued that confronting climate change shouldn’t threaten economic growth.  Windmills, solar panels and other types of clean-energy technology could spur scientific innovation and generate jobs.

However, Bloomberg reports that Republicans in Congress don’t share that view. “The expansion of his powers is what bothers me as much as anything else,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). “This president is stretching the limits of the executive branch’s power under the Constitution,” according to Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho). “I am confident our entire [Republican] conference understands both the danger of allowing the President to circumvent Congress and the devastating consequences to our economy and job creation if these new rules and regulations are approved,” he continued.

Pete Du Pont, writing an OP-ED in the Wall Street Journal called the Obama administration’s policy of government regulation and subsidies leading to better and cleaner energy are wrong headed. He said supply and demand is already creating a robust market for clean energy technology development.

On the supply side, there are new approaches to developing and scaling up renewable energy, and safely and economically extracting energy from natural gas, oil and coal, he said.  Efforts toward cleaner coal, important since coal is currently used to generate around 40% of US electricity, is crucial because we have enough to supply 200 years of demand,” Du Pont wrote.

“Unless, that is, overbearing government bureaucrats and misguided environmental interest groups get in the way,” Du Pont warned. Moreover, “well-intentioned subsidies for renewables reduce the chance for success, since producers learn to live off the subsidies and have less incentive to produce feasible technology.”

Finally, for all Mr. Obama’s efforts to forge side deals and clean-energy partnerships, his reaffirmation of his goal to reduce emissions 17 percent ties him to a contentious United Nations process, says the New York Times.

That means all eyes will be on the next big climate conference, in France in 2015. The question is what role the United States will play. “There are still fears that the political issues in the U.S. could pull down the outcome in the 2015 meeting,” said Jennifer Morgan, director of climate and energy programs at the World Resources Institute, told the Times.

To read the full Economist article cited in this story, click here

To read the Bloomberg BNA article cited in this story, click here

To read the New York Times article cited in this story, click here


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