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In a speech today President Obama unveiled the United States’ new Climate Change Action Plan, which calls for a three-pronged approach to cut pollution, build resilience, and join international efforts to reduce global carbon emissions. The plan promises to invest in enough clean energy to power six million homes by 2020, while also improving the efficiency of federal buildings and appliances. It also promises to strengthen and reinforce roads, bridges and shorelines, as well as power plants and healthcare facilities, in order to help communities across America adapt to the inevitable impacts of climate change. The comprehensive plan involves a series of small, incremental changes that will put a meaningful dent in greenhouse gas emissions, but natural gas still forms part of the energy mix and the plan does not make any definitive judgement on the Keystone XL pipeline – and some critics say his actions to lead the international community to reduce global carbon emissions fall short of what is required to prevent a four degree global temperature increase by 2100.
Building on his success is increasing fuel efficiency standards for trucks and cars to 54.5 mpg by 2025, President Obama again used the Clean Air Act to improve the efficiency of new and existing power plants – the largest source of carbon emissions in the United States. In order to make the case, the President points out that greenhouse gas emissions are on par with other toxic substances, such a arsenic, lead and mercury, which have all been regulated.
“The Clean Air Act embraces cooperative federalist principles, empowering states to find the most cost effective way to reduce greenhouse gas within their borders as long as it is consistent with the emissions targets set by EPA,” Tim Profeta, Director of Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University told Inhabitat in an email.
President Obama has promised to fast track implementation of clean energy generation projects on public lands. In 2012, the Department of the Interior issued permits for 10 gigawatts of renewable energy plants that created 17,000 jobs and power 4.4 million homes, including 25 utility-scale solar power plants, nine wind energy plants and 11 geothermal. The President has directed the DoI to issue permits for an additional 10 gigawatts by the end of 2020. The plans also calls for an end to wasteful energy subsidies, which could save $500 billion each year and cut greenhouse gas emissions 10 percent by 2050. The goal is to cut US fossil fuel tax subsidies by fiscal year 2014.
As part of a national plan to build resilience in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, federal agencies will help states and tribal communities throughout the country shore up the necessary infrastructure to adapt to climate change. For example, this year the Department of Transportation plans to assess how vulnerable the nation’s transportation infrastructure is to extreme weather and then provide assistance to strengthen it. Hospitals will also be reinforced, and the government will work with private insurance companies to design climate adaptation policies that make sense for everyone.
“The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) estimates costs of $4 billion to comply with new regulations on coal power plants, but the economy would see anywhere from $25 to $60 billion in benefits,” CNN reports.
Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, expressed support for the plan ahead of the speech: “This is the change Americans have been waiting for on climate,” he said. “President Obama is finally putting action behind his words.”
Other environmental groups are less enthusiastic, however. “This is the first time that the Federal government has announced significant adaptation actions at home, reflecting the fact that – importantly – Obama recognizes that the United States faces adverse impacts from climate change that it must adapt to. On the international level however the promises for action, while welcome, are too little too late!” said Dr Saleemul Huq, Senior Fellow in the Institute for Environment and Development’s Climate Change Group. “While it is good to see a leader of the world’s richest country and biggest cumulative polluter finally promise to take actions, after over a decade of refusal to do so, the problem has become much bigger while the US was ignoring it,” he added.
Meanwhile, no definitive judgement was announced for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline designed to transport oil from Canada’s tar sands – a project that environmentalists say would unleash a carbon bomb that would essentially negate Obama’s other measures. But leading climate activist and 350.org founder Bill McKibben expressed optimism that the new climate action plan provides a glimmer of hope that the President will veto the pipeline.
“But if I was being optimistic, I’d say tomorrow’s speech makes eventual victory more likely,” he said. “The President is above all a logical man, and kicking off a climate action plan only to approve a tar sands pipeline is like saying you’re ready to quit smoking then buying a carton of Marlboros.”