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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

President Obama’s Climate Action Plan

Jane A. Leggett, Coordinator
Specialist in Energy and Environmental Policy

On June 25, 2013, President Obama announced a national plan to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases (GHG), as well as to encourage adaptation to expected climate change. The President affirmed his commitment to his 2009 policy pledge to reduce U.S. GHG emissions by 17% below 2005 levels by 2020 if all other major economies agreed to limit their emissions as well. In 2011, the United States’ gross GHG emissions were approximately 7% below their 2005 levels.

The President stated a willingness to work with Congress toward enacting a bipartisan, marketbased scheme to reduce GHG emissions. He also said that he would move ahead with Executive Branch actions in the absence of Congressional support. The President’s Climate Action Plan lays out a series of measures in three categories:

  • Cut carbon pollution in America. 
  • Prepare the United States for the impacts of climate change. 
  • Lead international efforts to address global climate change. 

Many measures included in the Climate Action Plan have been underway. The plan specifies few timelines or metrics for evaluating progress of individual measures beyond national aggregate or sectoral GHG emissions or energy efficiency.

The centerpiece of the President’s announcement arguably is a Presidential Memorandum, also issued June 25, that directs EPA to issue two types of rules to curtail carbon dioxide emissions from new and existing power plants before the end of his term. Specifically, the Presidential Memorandum first instructs EPA to issue, as planned, a new proposal under the Clean Air Act (CAA), by September 20, 2013, for GHG emissions from newly constructed electric generating units (EGU), and to issue the final rule “in a timely fashion” after comments. Second, and most significantly, the Presidential Memorandum directs EPA also to issue standards, regulations, or guidelines for CO
2 emissions applicable to modified, reconstructed and existing power plants, building on States’ efforts to reduce power plant emissions. The Memorandum included neither specific levels of EGU emissions performance nor target-sectoral GHG reductions. The Memorandum requests the proposed rules for existing EGU by June 1, 2014, and final rules by June 1, 2015. Further, the Memorandum requests that the guidelines require States to submit to EPA their implementation plans, required under §111(d) of the CAA, and their implementing regulations by June 30, 2016. The language of the announcement and Memorandum suggest that the new standards and guidelines might be written to allow innovative, potentially cost-cutting flexibilities to states and regulated entities.

The President’s Climate Action Plan additionally announced regulatory actions to:

  • reduce GHG emissions including fuel efficiency standards for heavy-duty vehicles post-2018; 
  • tighten efficiency standards for federal buildings; and 
  • require a transition away from chemicals that contribute to global climate change that were introduced as alternatives to stratospheric ozone-depleting chemicals.

In President Obama’s speech, he referred to the pending Presidential Permit to allow construction of the Keystone XL pipeline to carry Canadian oil sands across the U.S. border. President Obama stated, “The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward.”

A host of administrative actions would promote GHG emission reduction, energy efficiency, and increased electricity generation by renewable energy in federal facilities, on federal lands, and among private, state, and local partners of federal agencies. Budget proposals for some of these actions were included in the President’s proposal for FY2014. To promote adaptation to climate change by the federal government and states and localities, the Climate Action Plan includes mostly a continuation of existing programs.

Additionally, a set of existing international initiatives were included in the President’s announcement to promote global reductions of GHG emissions and adaptation. New in the President’s announcement is a call to end U.S. support for public financing of new coal-fired power plants overseas except for those employing advanced efficiency or carbon capture and sequestration technology. Notably, the plan provided no quantification of whether the United States would meet its commitment to reduce GHG emissions by 17% from 2005 levels by 2020 or whether or how the United States would work towards its share of a 2009 international pledge of $100 billion annually to assist developing countries to mitigate their GHG emissions and adapt to climate change.

Date of Report: June 26, 2013
Number of Pages: 16
Order Number: R43120
Price: $29.95

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