Today, President Obama stood before the nation and agreed that climate change is no longer a distant threat — it’s here and we’re already experiencing the negative impacts.
For those of us who have been waiting years, and possibly decades to hear these words, it was a moment of relief. Followed by that familiar sinking feeling.
Details of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan were hinted at in the 24 hours before, so there were no huge surprises. The frank language about the cost and risk of unchecked climate change was a welcome change from the Congressional gridlock that sometimes treats it like a colossal joke perpetrated by angry hippies. Although the President eloquently articulated how he plans to finally side-step that gridlock and actually make progress on these problems, reading between the lines reveals that we’re in for more waiting.
Most of the plan outlined executive actions that build upon regulations already in place. So while the timelines and scope might be new, they’re only extensions of laws that big polluters have been avoiding for decades. Not very promising.
In a surprising diversion from what most media expected, President Obama did indeed make mention of the controversial Keystone XL oil sands pipeline. For once, they seemed to indicate that the Administration does understand the magnitude of this decision, and realizes that approving it would completely undermine any other attempts to slow the effects of climate change in this country.
“Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our national interest,” Obama said during the announcement speech at Georgetown University.“Our national interest will be served only if this project doesn’t significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project can go forward.”
(Although the State Department’s corporately-sponsored Environmental Impact Statement on the Keystone XL might disagree, there are dozens of climate scientists who know draining Canada’s tar sands are a death sentence for the planet. So let’s hope he keeps his word on that one).
Key Points from Obama’s Climate Action Plan
Cutting Carbon Pollution: The EPA has already established tough emissions standards for any new coal-fired power plants. Now, the Administration indicates that it will issue a Presidential Memorandum telling the EPA to establish similar standards for existing power plants. It’s time for Big Coal to shape up or ship out. And since shaping up will be extremely costly, we may be looking at the beginning of the end for coal-based energy in America. Part of this goal will also include drastically expanding the renewable electricity generation, particularly on public lands. Unfortunately, it also includes multi-billion dollar handouts to the natural gas, nuclear and fictitious “clean coal” industry for further R&D.
Preparing For Climate Change: Hurricane Sandy appears to have been a wake-up call for US cities. It’s painfully clear that our crumbling infrastructure can’t withstand the extreme weather that climate change will throw our way in the next 20 years. Moving forward, the Obama Administration claims that it “will help state and local governments strengthen our roads, bridges, and shorelines so we can better protect people’s homes, businesses and way of life from severe weather.” It will do so through the establishment of state, local and tribal “climate preparedness” task forces.
Joining The International Fight: The U.S. is one of the only wealthy nations on the planet that has refused to heed scientific warnings about climate change, and the need to begin shifting our economy away from fossil fuels. Apparently, that’s a reputation Obama wants to change. The Administration says it will accomplish this through a continuation of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate, working to address agriculture-driven deforestation, and working with emerging nations to support low emission development strategies that help countries.
While the majority of what’s outlined in the new plan sounds great (and should have been in place many years ago) we’re left asking “How?” and “When?” Few portions of the plan detail how new regulations will be enforced, and where the money will come from. And nothing accounts for the coming push-back from Conservatives.
Obama says he wants the new regulations finalized by June 2015, at which time he will only have about a year left in the White House. And it only takes one election to replace him with a Republican who could undo it all.
A statement from Forecast the Facts’ Director Daniel Souweine sums up the skepticism pretty well:
We are heartened to see President Obama finally responding to the millions of Americans under assault from increasingly dangerous extreme weather with concrete plans to address carbon pollution. But if he wants to beat back the climate change deniers and industry supporters gearing up in opposition, the President will need the overwhelming support of the grassroots, which requires shelving his misguided ‘all-of-the-above’ energy policy. Anything less means that the President will be fighting the most powerful industry in the history of the world without the strongest weapon at his disposal–people power.
Read the President’s full Climate Action Plan here [pdf].
Image via intelphotos/Flickr