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June 25, 2013

Environmentalists Embrace Obama Climate Plan

by Rosanne Skirble

In a major policy speech Tuesday, President Obama outlined a broad plan to reduce climate-changing emissions in a series of executive actions.  None of the measures requires congressional approval.  The plan was met with guarded optimism from the environmental community, but also fears from other sectors that it would threaten the fragile U.S. economy.   

The plan would help curb carbon emissions, prepare the nation for the impact of climate change and expand the U.S. global role in fighting it. Eileen Claussen, president of Climate and Energy Solutions, an environmental policy think tank, calls it an important initiative.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        
“Everything is in this plan, from rules at the Environmental Protection Agency to loan guarantees from the Department of Energy, to using federal lands for renewable power, to working internationally from everything from hydro-fluorocarbons to clean energy," said Claussen.

Claussen supports a Congressional mandate to put a price on carbon.  However, that plan has failed to gain legislative support. She says the centerpiece of the president's plan would direct the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to write new rules to reduce power plant emissions.    
Obama Climate Plan Embraced by Environmental Community

“The administration before this has really said it’s on the back burner.  We aren’t really working on it.  But you know that about a third of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions come from power plants, and so in this statement he is making it very clear that he wants EPA to move forward with the rules for both new power plants and existing power plants," she said.

Marlo Lewis is a senior fellow with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free market public policy group. He says the directive on existing plants is a step in the wrong direction, especially at a time of high unemployment and a fragile U.S. economy.

“The risk here is that we could have just a sheer dead weight loss of billions of dollars if coal-fired power plants - existing plants which have recently renovated to comply with environmental laws - have to shut down," said Lewis.

Eileen Claussen agrees that the President will face opposition as the EPA moves ahead with rules affecting the more than 6,500 existing power plants.   

“They are all different. And trying to write a rule that would move them all in the direction of clean and green is really challenging.  It’s a challenge on the complexity side. It’s a challenge on the legal side. There are many in the Congress and elsewhere who do not think this should happen at all. So there could be political challenges here too," she said.

Lewis argues that such regulations would also make electricity more costly.    

“And raising energy prices is not a good way to grow the economy and not a good way to create jobs," he said.

Another provision of the plan would help prepare the nation for climate change, a move welcomed by communities already experiencing intense weather events, which will only get worse in a warmer world.

Claussen cites some examples:

“… intense flooding, record breaking heat, extensive drought, wildfires, destructive storms, and the administration is making a commitment here to pull together the tools and information necessary to help communities and businesses strengthen their infrastructure and plan for these types of impacts," she said.

Claussen joins other voices in the environmental community who say that the proposed climate plan is a good step in demonstrating U.S. commitment toward combating climate change, but that the President must vigorously press for its implementation.