Obama commits to regulating power plants in climate action plan

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25 June 2013

NEW YORK: President Obama unveiled his second-term climate action plan on Tuesday, ahead of his speech at Georgetown University.

“We have a moral obligation to future generations to leave them a planet that is not polluted and damaged. Through steady, responsible action to cut carbon pollution, we can protect our children’s health and begin to slow the effects of climate change so that we leave behind a cleaner, more stable environment,” the plan states.

In the plan, the President commits to a package of executive actions and government regulations that will reduce US greenhouse gas emissions -- all of which can be implemented without new legislation from the US Congress -- including:

  • new fuel economy standards for heavy-duty vehicles
  • energy efficiency standards for appliances and buildings
  • increased permitting for clean energy projects on federal lands
  • strategies for reducing potent greenhouse gases like HFC and methane 

Taken in full, the plan is intended to achieve or come within “striking distance” of the US’ short-term emission reduction target of 17% below 2005 levels by 2020.

Amy Davidsen, US Executive Director, The Climate Group said, “A changing climate is not an issue we can afford to ignore. Last year alone, major weather disasters cost the US more than 300 lives and US$110 billion in damages. Action to significantly reduce US emissions is urgently needed, and we support the President’s commitment to achieving this goal in ways that will contribute to economic growth.”

At the centerpiece of the plan is the President’s commitment to move ahead with carbon emission standards for new and existing power plants. Standards for new power plants , which effectively ban new coal-fired plants, were proposed last year, but have yet to be finalized. According to the Washington Post, those rules could still be revised.

In the new plan, standards for existing power plants are to be proposed by June 2014, and finalized one year later.

A proposal by the Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that such standards, implemented in a flexible way, could cut carbon emissions from existing power plants by 26% below 2005 levels by 2020.

However, the rules for existing plants will face considerable opposition, both from Congress and from industry organizations. Congress can reject the new rules with a simple majority vote – and a non-binding vote in March suggests that they might – meaning that the President would have to use his veto power to keep the rules alive (something he has promised to do).

Once the rules are finalized, they will also be subject to legal challenges, meaning that their fate will ultimately be determined by the courts, specifically the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

Evan Juska, Head of US Policy, The Climate Group said, “The decision to move forward with carbon standards for existing power plants will be bitterly contested, both in Congress and in the courts, in the coming years. However, with Congress unwilling to consider better legislative alternatives, it is the only tool the President currently has.”

The plan also includes a number of programs intended to help the US prepare for climate impacts and cooperate internationally. It references the US’ recent agreement with China to phase down the use of HFCs, as an example of the opportunities that exist for countries to work together to reduce emissions and benefit their respective economies.

Read the full President’s Climate Action Plan.

Read our report 'American Clean Revolution: Why the US should play to win on the clean economy'.

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