UPDATE: President Obama announced his new climate change plan today. Below is a video of the speech and a copy of the proposals. Scroll down for reactions from around the web.
1:35 PM 1:55 PM EDT, President Obama will give a major speech on global warming at Georgetown University. He will announce a series of new tactics the White House, EPA and other agencies will use to try and reduce the level of greenhouse gas pollution in the atmosphere and help slow the damage caused by climate change.
UPDATE: Here's a recording of the speech, as delivered:
Yesterday, I posted a series of predictions different journalists and environmental groups were making about what they expected President Obama to propose. Now, we have a copy of the President's plan and can dig in to the specifics.
According to a Fact Sheet distributed to press by the White House, the speech will focus on three areas:
- Cuts Carbon Pollution in America
In 2012, U.S. carbon pollution from the energy sector fell to the lowest level in two decades even as the economy continued to grow. To build on this progress, the Obama Administration is putting in place tough new rules to cut carbon pollution—just like we have for other toxins like mercury and arsenic —so we protect the health of our children and move our economy toward American-made clean energy sources that will create good jobs and lower home energy bills. For example, the plan:
- Directs EPA to work closely with states, industry and other stakeholder to establish carbon pollution standards for both new and existing power plants;
- Makes up to $8 billion in loan guarantee authority available for a wide array of advanced fossil energy and efficiency projects to support investments in innovative technologies;
- Directs DOI to permit enough renewables project—like wind and solar – on public lands by 2020 to power more than 6 million homes; designates the first-ever hydropower project for priority permitting; and sets a new goal to install 100 megawatts of renewables on federally assisted housing by 2020; while maintaining the commitment to deploy renewables on military installations;
- Expands the President’s Better Building Challenge, focusing on helping commercial, industrial, and multi-family buildings cut waste and become at least 20 percent more energy efficient by 2020;
- Sets a goal to reduce carbon pollution by at least 3 billion metric tons cumulatively by 2030 – more than half of the annual carbon pollution from the U.S. energy sector – through efficiency standards set over the course of the Administration for appliances and federal buildings;
- Commits to partnering with industry and stakeholders to develop fuel economy standards for heavy-duty vehicles to save families money at the pump and further reduce reliance on foreign oil and fuel consumption post-2018; and
- Leverages new opportunities to reduce pollution of highly-potent greenhouse gases known as hydrofluorocarbons; directs agencies to develop a comprehensive methane strategy; and commits to protect our forests and critical landscapes.
Prepares the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change.
Even as we take new steps to cut carbon pollution, we must also prepare for the impacts of a changing climate that are already being felt across the country. Building on progress over the last four years, the plan:
- Directs agencies to support local climate-resilient investment by removing barriers or counterproductive policies and modernizing programs; and establishes a short-term task force of state, local, and tribal officials to advise on key actions the Federal government can take to help strengthen communities on the ground;
- Pilots innovative strategies in the Hurricane Sandy-affected region to strengthen communities against future extreme weather and other climate impacts; and building on a new, consistent flood risk reduction standard established for the Sandy-affected region, agencies will update flood-risk reduction standards for all federally funded projects;
- Launches an effort to create sustainable and resilient hospitals in the face of climate change through a public-private partnership with the healthcare industry;
- Maintains agricultural productivity by delivering tailored, science-based knowledge to farmers, ranchers, and landowners; and helps communities prepare for drought and wildfire by launching a National Drought Resilience Partnership and by expanding and prioritizing forest- and rangelandrestoration efforts to make areas less vulnerable to catastrophic fire; and
- Provides climate preparedness tools and information needed by state, local, and private-sector leaders through a centralized “toolkit” and a new Climate Data Initiative.
Lead International Efforts to Address Global Climate Change.
Just as no country is immune from the impacts of climate change, no country can meet this challenge alone. That is why it is imperative for the United States to couple action at home with leadership internationally. America must help forge a truly global solution to this global challenge by galvanizing international action to significantly reduce emissions, prepare for climate impacts, and drive progress through the international negotiations. For example, the plan:
- Commits to expand major new and existing international initiatives, including bilateral initiatives with China, India, and other major emitting countries;
- Leads global sector public financing towards cleaner energy by calling for the end of U.S. government support for public financing of new coal-fired powers plants overseas, except for the most efficient coal technology available in the world's poorest countries, or facilities deploying carbon capture and sequestration technologies; and
- Strengthens global resilience to climate change by expanding government and local community planning and response capacities.
For a deeper dive, here's a copy of The President's Climate Action Plan.
So what should we make of all this?
I think David Roberts at Grist has the smartest read on today's announcement (Sorry for the long excerpt, David):
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 DC 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?
Obama wants a no-drama climate plan that will quickly be swept from the news cycle by Supreme Court decisions and preparations for Obamacare implementation. He’s aware that the public is still spooked from the economic crash and ongoing weak recovery, in no mood to hear about sweeping, historic anything from the feds right now. That’s why the plan refers to "steady, responsible" action on climate twice in the first two pages. Steady as she goes. No reason to get worked up.
This is vintage Obama. He refuses to wage lofty ideological battles, which frustrates the hell out of people who view those battles as necessary and inevitable. He doesn’t direct a lot of energy at bashing his head into walls. He just puts the available resources to work doing what can be done. It’s not enough — it’s not even as much as he could do — but it would be a big mistake to think it doesn’t matter.
David has much more analysis, so read the rest.
Andrew Revkin explains why even a measured plan like this can take time to fully kick-in, but has an immediate impact:
Of course this climate plan is just rhetoric until it is translated into on-the-ground actions. And the most significant steps, such as the rule-making that would cut carbon dioxide pollution from existing power plants, will take a decade or more to come to fruition.
But if you doubt the reality of this shift, just look at the news coverage from Monday of the drop in the price of shares in coal companies ahead of the speech. This headline in Street Insider says it all: “Coal Stocks Routed as Pres. Obama Preps to Tackle Carbon Emissions.”
Brad Plumer says Obama is trying the "kitchen-sink approach" to climate change, but puts these relatively modest policies in a broader context:
Many developed nations have aimed to cut their emissions a whopping 80 percent by 2050, in the hopes of limiting global temperature rise to no more than 2°C.
A recent open letter from the Clean Air Task Force warned that cuts of that magnitude will require more than just reining in coal plants. Clean-energy technology will have to get a lot better, too. “Ultimately,” the letter notes, “we will need to capture the carbon from gas-fired power plants as well. Renewable energy faces challenges of scale, cost and intermittency; carbon capture and storage faces cost challenges at full scale; and current forms of nuclear power are challenged by safety, waste management, weapons proliferation and cost risks.”
Only Congress will be able to craft legislation that can reorient the nation’s energy system that drastically.
Obviously that is not as easy to accomplish with our current Congress, so policies like those that will be announced today are what we're left with until the climate movement and realities of the impacts like drought, sea level rise and storms become too much for members of Congress to ignore.
You can learn more at WhiteHouse.gov/Climate-Change
What do you make of the plan? Let us know in the comments and I'll highlight some of the more thoughtful answers. I'll be posting more reactions to the speech from around the web as the day and week goes on, so keep an eye on this space.
UPDATE: Here's a look at some reactions to the speech:
climate change apparently is not a good topic for cable news. none of the big three carrying POTUS right now.— Sam Stein (@samsteinhp) June 25, 2013
"Invest, divest" is the most crypto-radical line the President has ever uttered.— Christopher Hayes (@chrislhayes) June 25, 2013
Um, haven't seen the transcript but Obama sure seemed to give a shout out to divestment. Yikes— Bill McKibben (@billmckibben) June 25, 2013
I’m feeling light-headed.— David Roberts (@drgrist) June 25, 2013
i can't really believe we're hearing a president of the united states delivering this speech #longtimecoming— Tim Dickinson (@7im) June 25, 2013
Obama: I don't have much patience for anybody who argues the problem is not real. We don't have time for a meeting of the flat earth society— Kate Sheppard (@kate_sheppard) June 25, 2013