President Obama won the 2012 US election last night, and in a powerful victory speech he called for climate action to address a nation that is “threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet“. The statement came after a long campaign that barely mentioned the environment, so now we look to our Commander in Chief to see what he will do in the face of a rapidly changing climate. With a Republican-controlled House of Representatives filled with many who are skeptical of climate science, what will four more years mean for the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions, renewable energy, and the growth of our economy? Read on for a look at critical opportunities for the Obama Administration to combat climate change in the years to come.
After Hurricane Sandy, the issue of climate change and its effects are at the forefront of everyone’s minds. American belief that climate change is a real and human-influenced phenomenon is at an all time high – according to current polls from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, 74% of the country now believes that global warming is affecting weather in the United States. With the added stress of a less than robust economy, those focused on job security and financial growth are also keeping an eye on how the environment will play a role in employment. Now that President Obama has been granted 4 more years in the White House, what can we expect from him in terms of climate action?
Greenhouse Gas Regulation
The regulation of greenhouse gas emissions is a fundamental step towards keeping climate change at bay, however with a Republican controlled house, legislation may be difficult to pass. The President’s best hope in the immediate future is to rely upon mandates such as the Clean Air Act passed back in 1970 and Supreme Court Rulings that give the EPA the power to control emissions. With 40% of the country’s total emissions coming from new power plants, strict enforcement of existing laws should come into play. The EPA has already drafted rules to limit CO2 from these plants, but applying these laws to already established sites will yield the most progress. According to analysis from Resources for the Future, a 5% cut in greenhouse gasses could put the country on target for the President’s 2009 pledge to cut emissions 17% by the year 2020 from levels measured back in 2005.
With debates over the safety of technologies like fracking and the validity of clean coal, many will keeping an eye on the Federal Government not only for regulations, but for investments into alternative sources energy. The White House website for energy policy states: “We can’t have an energy strategy for the last century that traps us in the past. We need an energy strategy for the future – an all-of-the-above strategy for the 21st century that develops every source of American-made energy.”
In 2009, the Obama Administration funded the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Project Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) which invested in domestic renewables in order to wean the country from dependence on foreign oil. The White House also aims to establish a Clean Energy Standard (CES) that would double the amount of electricity from clean energy sources to 80% by 2035. Since 2009, the Department of the Interior has also approved 29 large-scale renewable energy projects, and it has asserted that they are committed to continue to issue permits on public land throughout the next term to establish 10,000 megawatts of power by the end of this year alone.
Through-nuts-and-bolts programs that improve standards on cars and trucks, we’re looking forward to improved fuel economy and incentives for big automakers to go green. The Obama Administration has already announced a 56.4 MPG fuel efficiency standard in association with 13 automakers for the year 2025. The mandate could save the country an impressive $1.7 trillion. Start-ups such as Tesla Motors have been making headlines with their all-electric vehicles, exciting entrepreneurs and attracting attention from federal funding. In 2009, the start-up received $465 million in government money, and has since been driving ahead of expectations with its line of sedans and charging stations. With that kind of investment from the top, it is exciting to think of what kind of progress could be made with an increased focus on subsidizing green technology over polluting industry.