US President Barack Obama is preparing to lay out a package of measures aimed at curbing climate change, including limits on emissions from power plants. He will also unveil plans for an expansion of renewable energy projects, improved flood resilience and seeking an international climate deal. But he is considered unlikely to broach the issue of the controversial Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. And administration officials have previously rejected any prospect of a “carbon tax”.
The speech will give shape to the president’s intentions – voiced in his inaugural address in January – to act on climate change in his second term.”While no single step can reverse the effects of climate change, we have a moral obligation to future generations to leave them a planet that is not polluted and damaged,” the White House said in a statement.The statement further argued that climate change posed an immediate threat, with the 12 hottest years on record all occurring in the past 15 years.
Most of the strategy involves using President Obama’s executive authority without congressional approval.But other parts of the plan could face political opposition and legal challenges.
The US House is dominated by Republicans and Speaker John Boehner has already called the plans “absolutely crazy”. Speaking last week, he told reporters: “Why would you want to increase the cost of energy and kill more American jobs at a time when the American people are still asking the question, where are the jobs?”
The president is expected to reaffirm his 2009 commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 17% below 2005 levels by the end of the decade. But critics say these reductions fall short of the action needed to avoid the worst effects of climate change and are less aggressive than European Union targets.
The centrepiece of the plan is a memorandum to launch the first-ever limits on carbon emissions from existing power plants. These are the single biggest source of carbon pollution, accounting for a third of US greenhouse gas emissions and 40% of its carbon output.But it remains unclear how strict these limits will be. Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed regulating emissions from new power plants, but the body has delayed that ruling.
Seven US governors have already written to President Obama, calling on him to abandon this proposal, which they say would “effectively shutter” coal-fired power plants and prevent the construction of new ones.Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, said imposing carbon rules on power plants amounted to a national energy tax.
“Will the President explain the massive costs to American jobs? Will the president explain how low-income Americans would pay for their new, higher utility bills?” he told the AP news agency.President Obama is also calling for an end to US support for public financing for new coal-fired plants abroad, officials said, but will exempt plants in the poorest nations if the cleanest technology available in those countries is being used.
He also plans an expansion of solar and wind energy projects on public lands, with the aim of generating enough electricity to power the equivalent of six million homes by 2020. He will also set higher goals for renewables installed at federal housing projects.
In addition, he is announcing $8bn in federal loan guarantees to spur investment in green technologies.
But the $7bn, 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline, meant to bring heavy crude from the tar sands of Alberta in Canada to the refineries of Texas, is unlikely to get a mention.
Backed by industry and labour unions, but staunchly opposed by green campaigners, it has turned into one of the biggest environmental challenges of the President’s time in office.
The project is currently being reviewed by the US State Department, with a decision not likely to come before the Autumn. On Tuesday, President Obama will also announce stricter efficiency standards on electrical appliances and buildings. He will also propose steps to protect the US from the impacts of climate change, such as drought and flooding.
Saleemul Huq, senior fellow at the International Insitute for Environment and Development (IIED), commented: “This is the first time that the Federal government has announced significant adaptation actions at home, reflecting the fact that – importantly – Obama recognises 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. 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.”