Obama Outlines Plan to Address Climate Change

By: Brian Compere
Publisher: Council on the Environment
Published: June 25, 2013

President Obama wants to address climate change, and he has a plan of how to do it.

At Georgetown University on Tuesday, he outlined his intentions to work to cut carbon pollution, prepare the U.S. for impacts of climate change and lead efforts to combat climate change on a global scale.

“It was important for me to speak directly to your generation. Because the decisions that we make now and in the years ahead will have a profound impact on the world that all of you inherit,” he said to the college students in the audience. “I refuse to condemn your generation and future generations to a planet that’s beyond fixing.”

Although the president spoke about the need to secure a stable environment for future generations, he also asserted climate change is impacting the U.S. today as well. A fact sheet on the White House website lists numerous weather records set in 2012; it also estimated that extreme weather cost the U.S. economy more than $100 billion in 2012.

Obama said the 12 warmest years in recorded history have been in the past 15 years, and he listed extreme weather events and records broken through the U.S. in 2012.

“The question now is whether we will have the courage to act before it’s too late,” he said. “And how we answer will have a profound impact on the world that we leave behind not just to you but to your children and grandchildren. As a president, as a father and as an American, I am here to say we need to act.”

In order to execute the broad goals of the plan, the president said he will do the following:

  • Only allow the proposed Keystone oil pipeline to move forward if a State Department evaluation of potential environmental impacts finds it would not exacerbate carbon pollution problems.
  • Direct the Environmental Protection Agency to prevent power plants from pumping unlimited amounts of carbon emissions into the atmosphere by working with states, industry representatives and other stakeholders to establish standards for new and existing plants.
  • Set the first-ever fuel standards for heavy-duty trucks, buses and vans in order to reduce both visits to the gas pump and carbon pollution.
  • Call for Congress to end tax breaks for big oil companies and invest in clean energy companies.
  • Double the amount of energy Americans are getting from wind and solar power.
  • Set a new goal for the federal government to consume 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources over the next seven years.

“All in all, it is the most aggressive and promising climate plan to come out of the executive branch in years, and President Obama should be applauded for the bold leadership he has shown in confronting the climate change threat head on,” Michael Mann, director of the Penn State Earth System Science Center, wrote in a public post on Facebook.

Larry Schweiger, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, agreed in a statement of the NWF’s website: “President Obama is following through on his pledge to act and this is an important step in the journey to end industrial carbon pollution … President Obama’s plan captures the scale of what is needed to protect our communities and safeguard wildlife, and prepare for the climate impacts we’re already seeing.”

Obama said his plan builds on progress the U.S. has already made: He said the amount of energy Americans are using from wind and solar power has already doubled before – during his first term in office – and the White House fact sheet lists numerous other points of progress while still asserting there’s more work to be done.

“So it’s a good start, but the reason we’re all here in the heat today is because he know we’ve got more to do,” Obama said.

The president addressed possible arguments to his plan, saying denial of climate change-related issues have been dismissed because of scientific facts and concerns about negative impacts on the economy from a transition to a clean energy economy are unlikely because the U.S. has adapted well to similar changes in the past.

“It’s not an ‘either, or,’ it’s a ‘both, and.’ We’ve got to look after our children, we have to look after our future, and we have to grow the economy and create jobs. We can do all of that as long as we don’t fear the future, instead we seize it,” he said.

It will take time to make this transition, he added, and it won’t be possible to “drill our way out of” issues associated with climate change by simply increasing oil production.

The president’s plan argues the U.S. can prepare for the impacts of climate change by supporting climate-resilient investments on state and local levels, learning from Superstorm Sandy by revising flood risk reduction standards, creating more sustainable and resilient hospitals through a public-private partnership with the healthcare industry, maintaining agricultural productivity by educating growers on the impacts of climate change, and providing tools for climate resilience to state, local and private sector leaders.

But the plan also acknowledges climate change is not just about the U.S.: It includes goals of working with other countries to address climate change through initiatives such as leading global public sector financing toward cleaner energy, expanding bilateral cooperation with major emerging economies and negotiating global free trade in environmental goods and services .

Environmental groups and leaders, including Mann, the NWF and the House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition, have praised the plan as the Administration begins working toward achieving all of its goals in the near future.

“While far too many in Congress question settled science, climate change will not yield to partisan gridlock.  Addressing this issue is part of our moral responsibility to protect the health and welfare of current and future generations,” said an SEEC release on its website. “SEEC Members will continue to fight for policies in Congress that will address climate change, and will press for action.  The time to act is now and we applaud the President’s leadership.”

Reprinted from Council on the Environment with permission. http://cone.umd.edu/index.php/news-events/342-obama-outlines-plan-to-address-climate-change.