- Today President Barack Obama unveiled the nation's first wide-ranging strategy for tackling climate change that touches on everything from renewable power, to energy-efficient appliances, to rebuilding in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. At 1:55pm ET, he'll follow through on his promise from his second inaugural address to take action on climate change with a major policy speech in Washington.
Obama's chief task in this afternoon's speech is to outline steps that can be taken directly from the Oval Office, without the approval of a Congress that has proven sluggish and hostile on the issue. Top line items include an order from the President for the EPA to finalize long-awaited emissions limits for power plants—the single biggest source of carbon pollution—and a commitment to double the amount of renewable energy systems built on federal land.
Stay tuned as the day unfolds for updates and reactions from the across the Climate Desk partnership and the web. (All times are US Eastern Standard Time, and the latest updates are at the top.) Watch the full speech here:
- 5:00pm - Just wrapped up our online chat with Climate Desk journalists Kate Sheppard of Mother Jones and Grist's David Roberts to debrief the president's announcement. We covered Keystone XL, international climate treaties, and more; check out the complete recording below if you missed it:
- 4:33pm - Low-income housing goes renewable
The president’s plan includes a first-ever target for installing renewable power on federally-subsidized housing, with a commitment to build 100 megawatts by 2020, enough to power some 100,000 homes.
Technological advances and a growing market have dropped the cost of going solar 70 percent since President Obama took office, according to the Solar Energy Industry Association, and putting more panels on low-income housing could ease the burden on a federal assistance program, LIHEAP, that last year spent $3.5 billion to help low-income residents pay their electric bills.
Solar “is a smart investment, not to mention being clean,” said SEIA’s Rhone Resch. “The administration is responding to that.”
- 3:12pm - Our colleague Kate Sheppard has posted this thorough run-down of today's news. She notes the significance of the speech, but also warns that some of Obama's biggest ticket items could be subject to delays: "The rules for existing power plants could be huge news, as old, dirty plants account for 40 percent of all emissions in the US. But there are scant details on what exactly those rules will entail. The EPA has missed deadlines on emissions, and other important rules have been stuck at the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs within the White House's Office of Management and Budget for months."
- 2:56pm - Climate Desk’s top three surprises from President Obama’s speech today:
1. At a particularly striking moment near the end of his speech, Obama called on consumers to divest from dirty energy: “Invest, divest, make yourself heard,” he said to raucous applause. Divestment has recently gained in popularly as a rallying cry for young climate activists, pushed by Bill McKibben and his group, 350.org. Read more about that campaign here. [UPDATE: In an email to Climate Desk, McKibben called the move a "shout out" to students, "his most devoted base," that "will hearten them enormously."]
2. Something to look forward to: a potential conflict between the EPA and State Department over measuring the climate impacts of the Keystone XL pipeline, now that the president has made that the deciding factor. (We’d love to be a fly on the wall of the next cross-agency meeting.)3. Finally, Obama promised to withdraw financial support for any overseas coal-fired power station, unless it uses carbon capture technology, a decision meant to encourage developing countries to leapfrog dirtier phases of power production.
- 2:30pm - President Obama can look at this one EPA figure of Keystone's potential carbon emissions [pdf] as he weighs his decision: "If GHG intensity of oil sands crude is not reduced, over a 50 year period the additional CO2-e [equivalent] from oil sands crude transported by the pipeline could be as much as 935 million metric tons." That's 81% greater than emissions from regular old crude, this EPA letter says.
- 2:18pm - Obama links Keystone XL fight to carbon emissions: President Obama explicitly linked the Keystone XL pipeline proposal to climate change today, saying that the pipeline only serves the nation if it “does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.” He said: “The net effects of the pipeline's impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is to go forward.” There was no extra infomation about what he means by “net effects,” and how that will be measured. But opponents of the pipeline exploded with enthusiasm on Twitter:
- 2:00pm - Obama on the rising costs of extreme weather: Early in President Obama’s speech, he mentioned the rising costs of insurance premiums attached to worsening extreme weather, and the ongoing costs of rebuilding. We are “already paying the price of inaction," he said. Rising costs were detailed in a recent FEMA report (below), which said that climate change is likely to expand vastly the size and costs of the National Flood Insurance Program. The portion of the US at risk for flooding, including coastal regions and areas along rivers, will grow between 40 and 45 percent by the end of the century. Read more here:
- 1:40pm - In an apparent win for environmentalists who have pushed Keystone XL as a line in the sand for presidential climate action, the president's expected announcement would reframe debate over the contentious pipeline:
- 1:25pm - The Huffington Post is reporting that the president, in his speech, will say he will not approve Keystone XL pipeline if it leads to a net increase in greenhouse gas emissions, although it remains unclear how potential increases would be measured and against what baseline:
- 1:10pm - Speaker John Boehner has slammed President Obama’s plan, saying it amounts to a “national energy tax” that will "shutter power plants, destroy good-paying American jobs, and raise electricity bills for families that can scarcely afford it.”
- 1:05pm - With half an hour till the speech, the crowd at Georgetown University is swelling:
- 1:00pm - Over at The Atlantic, Molly Ball says the most important thing about the plan could be that it's a sign Obama is willing and able to step over Congress on climate change:
- 12:20pm - Obama Aims to Hit More Renewables—But Avoid Tortoises
Since 2009, the Department of Interior has approved enough renewable energy projects on federal land to power over four million homes, helping the administration hit their original goal of ten gigawatts early. Today’s plan sets a new target to double that amount by 2020.
But Bobby McEnaney, an analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council, says the second ten gigawatts won’t come as easily as the first.“We don't want to see them opening federal land willy-nilly,” he said.
In the first push, the federal target was helped by a raft of state-level mandates, particularly in California, that created demand by forcing utilities to buy renewable power; now, states will also need to up their ante. Early on, demand was also driven by fears of an impending carbon tax, which now seem distant.
At the same time, McEnaney said, Obama and his new Interior Secretary Sally Jewell will need to work out a better plan to plan to pick projects that minimize environmental damage; one solar project from the first round, planned for the California desert, would imperil habitat for the endangered desert tortoise and was ultimately cancelled last week after a lengthy legal battle with environmental groups.
Still, most of the richest resources for renewable power—the sunniest and windiest spots—are on federal land, so Obama’s new goal could go a long way toward cleaning up energy in the US if rolled out effectively.
“The first target really spurred a lot of growth,” McEnaney said. “So how do make that a permanent thing rather than just a political aspiration?”