Obama and Climate Change: What You Need to Know
On Tuesday afternoon, President Barack Obama will outline a long-awaited plan to address climate change. We will livestream his announcement, scheduled for 1:55 p.m. ET, on this page.
The proposal includes provisions to curb carbon emissions from existing power plants and to finalize standards for new plants; it guarantees enough renewable building permits to power more than 6 million homes; it includes $8 billion in loan guarantees for energy efficiency and fossil fuel projects; and it helps farming and ranching communities prepare for climate-related wildfires and drought.
Daniel Weiss, senior fellow and director of climate strategy for the Center for American Progress pointed to the new rules for existing power plants, which account for a third of the nation's greenhouse gas emissions, as the most significant part of the new plan.
"It's the largest uncontrolled source of carbon pollution, he said. "This is the single biggest step he can take."
However, some have warned that such action could raise the cost of energy and pose an economic hit. House Speaker John Boehner has called a proposal to regulate emissions from existing power plants "absolutely crazy," the Washington Post's Juliet Eilperin reported. "Why would you want to increase the cost of energy and kill more American jobs at a time when the American people are still asking the question, where are the jobs?," he said.
What's expected to be unsaid today will be any mention of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport tar sands oil from northern Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast.
In the meantime, we thought we'd seize this opportunity to provide a quick primer on the president's record on climate change to date:
Among the top climate policies he's implemented while in office:
In 2012, the president issued higher standards for gas mileage in cars. The new regulations, designed to both reduce oil use and curb greenhouse gas emissions, required automakers to nearly double the average fuel economy of new cars and trucks from 26 to 54 miles per gallon by 2025.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or stimulus, contained more than $90 billion in grants, loans and tax subsidies for renewable energy and energy efficiency, accounting for about 10 percent of the overall stimulus. It included funding for wind and solar projects, advanced batteries, home retrofits, energy-efficient public transportation and renewable energy research.
Some of those programs have been the subject of criticism for the way government money has been used to shape policy and even derision (as was the case with the now-bankrupt Solyndra), but the administration's programs have clearly been the most ambitious effort to date.
Earlier this month, Mr. Obama teamed with Chinese President Xi Jinping to scale back the emissions of hydrofluorocarbons, or HFC's -- heat-trapping chemicals used in air-conditioning and refrigeration that can be up to thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide. Phasing out HFC's entirely would be equivalent to eliminating 100 billion tons of CO2, said Paul Bledsoe, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund, and a former Clinton White House climate aide.
"It's amazing how huge these numbers are," Bledsoe said, adding that it's believed eliminating HFC's would also lower global temperatures by a hefty half degree Celsius.
In 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency issued the endangerment finding, which found that greenhouse gas pollutants pose a danger to public health under the Clean Air Act.
"Think of the endangerment finding as the starting pistol in the race to reduce carbon and other greenhouse gas pollution," Weiss said. "That gives you the legal standing to say, once you've made this finding, now you can take action."
But there are still major sources of continuing tension:
Many are angry about the proposed 1700-mile Keystone XL pipeline. Critics fear its construction will open up more drilling in Canada's oil sands, releasing massive quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The heavier Alberta oil in tar sands production releases roughly 15 percent more emissions than conventional oil.
The rules established last year that limit greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants have been stalled by legal challenges, challenges that existing plants are also likely to meet. The rules would have effectively closed construction of any new coal burning facilities. But earlier this month, the E.P.A. delayed the proposed rule, "saying it needed to respond to public and industry concerns," according to this New York Times report.
"They'll need to make sure that all the legal i's are dotted and t's are crossed to make sure that it is as unassailable in court as possible," Weiss said.
Moreover, utilities and many Republicans have said the change in emission rules are precisely the wrong policy, a costly change at a time when the economy is still trying to gain more strength and momentum.
Environmentalists have long opposed the expansion of drilling under President Obama, particularly in Arctic waters. Powerful ice floes and winds pose dangers, and drilling in that Alaskan region could disrupt the habitat of many animals, especially the threatened polar bear. Others point out that aside from the Arctic, he hasn't opened any new areas for carbon production, and that domestic drilling provides an alternative to importing foreign oil.
Also lagging is infrastructure necessary for a transition to electric cars. The lack of public charging stations has prompted so-called "range anxiety" among those who might otherwise buy electric.