22 Jul 2013: Forum

Forum: How Daring is
Obama's New Climate Plan?

President Obama has unveiled a proposal to combat global warming that would, for the first time, regulate carbon dioxide emissions from all U.S. coal-fired power plants. Yale Environment 360 asked a group of experts to assess the president’s climate strategy.


Stymied by Congress, and no longer weighed down by concerns about re-election, President Barack Obama decided last month to take assertive action on climate change, unveiling a host of administrative actions to regulate carbon emissions, encourage the development of renewable energy, promote energy efficiency, and prepare the country to adapt to a warmer world.

To judge how effective the president’s climate plan might be, Yale Environment 360 asked a panel of policy makers, environmentalists, and scientists to answer the following questions: Do you think President Obama’s recently announced climate change plan will make a major contribution to reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and, in particular, do you think he will succeed in regulating CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants by the end of his term?



Michael Mann
Michael Mann, climate scientist and director of the Penn State Earth System Science Center.
Ultimately, we need a comprehensive energy and climate policy that prices carbon pollution and levels the playing field for renewable sources of energy that are not degrading our climate and planet. But given that we have an intransigent Congress (the current House Science Committee leadership continues to deny even the existence of human-caused climate change), the president has been forced to turn to executive actions. His call for carbon emission limits on all coal-fired power plants, not just newly built plants, is a bold step forward. It will go some way to stemming our growing carbon emissions and the impact they are having on our climate.
The president's comments about the Keystone XL pipeline are also encouraging. He indicated that he will block the pipeline if it is going to lead to increased carbon emissions. Since all objective analyses indicated that the construction of the pipeline will lead to increased carbon emissions (because it will lead to far greater extraction of Canadian tar sands oil), this should translate to a decision not to move forward on that project. 
Finally, the president spelled out promising ways forward to (a) introduce greater incentives for renewable, non-carbon based energy, (b) reduce energy usage/improve energy efficiency, and (c) adapt to those climate change impacts which are already locked in and unavoidable.

All in all, it is the most aggressive and promising climate plan to come out of the executive branch in years.


Jane Long
Jane C. S. Long, chairman, California’s Energy Future Study, The California Council on Science and Technology.
The president’s plan aims to eliminate emissions from electricity by invoking the Clean Air Act. But emissions from electricity are already being reduced without any government interference because of plentiful, inexpensive natural gas. And the good news is that gas has half the emissions of the coal it displaces, so some like to call natural gas the “bridge fuel.” The bad news is also that gas has half the emissions of coal. These emissions have to go, too, because the climate problem will continue to get worse until we stop all emissions. To get off the other end of the gas bridge, either emissions from natural gas generation will have to be captured and sequestered away from the atmosphere or we will have to plan to stop using any fossil fuel, including gas. Using no fossil fuel means relying on renewable energy or nuclear power. Putting all our bets on renewable energy could mean significant delays in reducing emissions. The president’s plan calls for the EPA to negotiate a timeline for emissions reductions with each individual state. If Obama is to significantly reduce emissions as quickly as possible, he needs to couple his legal approach with investments and policies that promote all forms of emission-free electricity, including carbon capture and storage and nuclear power, not just renewable energy.


Michael Gerrard
Michael Gerrard, director of Columbia University’s Center for Climate Change Law.
Regardless of attempts by opponents of these regulations to obtain relief in Congress and the courts, the fact that President Obama has for the first time put EPA on a timetable to issue them sends a strong signal to the generating industry. It means that in addition to the competition from natural gas, and the prospect of expensive new rules on coal ash, cooling water, and conventional and toxic air pollutants, coal-fired power plants now face a good chance of yet another layer of restrictions. Few if any plans for new plants have been in the works for several years, thanks mostly to cheap natural gas; the principal effect of the anticipated rules will be on generator decisions whether to spend tens or hundreds of millions of dollars upgrading old plants that are nearing the end of their useful lives. Even more of these units, which tend to be the dirtiest, will now be retired. Thus even before the rules complete the tortuous process of taking full effect, they will have a tangible impact on greenhouse gas emissions by inducing more owners to accelerate the retirement of their older units.


Bill McKibben
Bill McKibben, author, Scholar in Residence at Middlebury College, and founder of 350.org.
I think the biggest effect of his plan is to get us off the dime. Given the science, we need much steeper reductions than what the current plan entails. But most of all we need a start that breaks the logjam. That's why the remarks on Keystone and divestment were as important as the remarks on coal — if he blocks Keystone, for instance, then he'll be the first world leader to stop a project based on its effects on the climate. That's both a legacy and an opening bid in renewed climate negotiations. It will demonstrate credibility.


Nicolas Loris
Nicolas Loris, senior policy analyst, The Heritage Foundation’s Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies.
President Obama’s climate plan would have a chilling effect on the economy, not the environment. If the Environmental Protection Agency moves forward on greenhouse gas regulations for new and existing power plants, which would particularly impact coal, it will cost more to heat and cool your home, to cook your meals, to light your home. Phasing out coal, electricity prices would increase 20 percent and cause a family of four to lose more than $1,000 in annual income. Higher energy prices would ripple through the economy. Consumers would have less money to spend. Businesses would face higher operating costs and pass those costs on to the consumer. As the economy is squeezed from both ends, Heritage found that significantly reducing coal as a source of energy would destroy more than 500,000 jobs by 2030. All of this economic pain would come with no real impact on the climate. Even if the U.S. stopped emitting all carbon dioxide today (virtually halting all economic activity), the Science and Public Policy Institute found that the global temperature would decrease by 0.17 degrees Celsius by 2100. The president is right to say that we can have economic growth and an improved environment. But this isn’t the plan to do it.


Carol Browner
Carol Browner, senior fellow, Center for American Progress, and former director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy in the Obama administration.
President Obama has outlined a practical, common sense plan to address climate change by cutting carbon pollution from power plants, boosting investments in renewable fuels, and improving efficiency and conservation efforts. Power plants are the largest source of carbon pollution in the U.S., responsible for forty percent of the climate change-fueling pollution, and there are no existing limits on how much they can dump into the air. If we are serious about meeting our obligation to future generations to address climate change, cutting carbon pollution from power plants has to be part of the plan. We do not have to choose between a strong economy and a healthy environment. We can have both. We’ve seen that with the clean cars standard we achieved in the first term and with previous clean air standards for acid rain, CFCs [chlorofluorocarbons], smog, soot, and clean diesel fuel. President Obama’s climate change plan can and will achieve similar economic benefits. In fact, we can cut carbon pollution from power plants while adding over 200,000 new jobs and saving the average American family a little bit of money on their electric bills, according to a new analysis released by the Natural Resources Defense Council and business and labor groups.


Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger
Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger are, respectively, the president and chairman of The Breakthrough Institute, a think tank based in Oakland, California.
Three years after the collapse of efforts to pass cap-and-trade legislation in the U.S. Congress, U.S. emissions are well below those that would have been mandated by the cap. Indeed, since 2007, U.S. emissions have fallen faster than those of any other nation in the world, thanks to our glut of cheap natural gas. It will be several years before any of President Obama's proposed carbon dioxide regulations for coal plants are finalized and perhaps more to wind their way through the courts before they take effect. But while regulating emissions through the federal Clean Air Act is viewed by many as a less than optimal way to reduce emissions, the reality is that the regulations proposed by the President will functionally have the same effect as either proposed cap-and-trade legislation or a carbon tax — modestly accelerating America's transition from coal to gas.

The move from coal to gas is a welcome transition. Natural gas is better than coal on every human and environmental measure, including mortality, damages, air pollution, water pollution, and water use. But in recognizing the benefits of this shift, we should also keep in mind its limits. Gas is helping drive U.S. emissions down but those gains are limited. Regulations can help that shift along but are unlikely to bring us the cheap, zero-carbon technologies that will be necessary to achieve much deeper emissions. Ultimately, developing better zero-carbon technologies will determine how much emissions reduction regulations and pricing policies will be capable of achieving.


Mary Anne Hitt
Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign.
President Obama's climate plan, with carbon pollution standards for coal plants as its centerpiece, is a roadmap that could help us finally curb climate change. But whether or not his plan will actually reduce carbon emissions is now up to us. The president’s plan is a testament to the grassroots climate movement. For more than a decade, more than 100 organizations have worked to tackle our biggest source of carbon pollution: coal plants. 149 coal plants have announced their retirement since 2010, and clean energy like wind and solar are powering the nation at record levels. Meanwhile, EPA safeguards limiting power plant carbon emissions are required by the Clean Air Act, have been upheld by the Supreme Court, and are strongly supported by the American public. Not surprisingly, polluters are already lobbying hard for a weak standard. But we will push for strong safeguards, while also tackling other key climate issues left out of the president’s plan, including natural gas fracking, mountaintop removal, and the sweetheart deal for coal companies on public lands. President Obama’s plan is the beginning of a crucial new chapter in our climate fight — one we all have an opportunity, and a responsibility, to shape.

POSTED ON 22 Jul 2013 IN Business & Innovation Climate Climate Oceans Policy & Politics Science & Technology Asia North America 

COMMENTS


Eh, ok, so how daring is it? Will it lower emissions?
Posted by Gustav Fransson Nyvell on 22 Jul 2013


Yes. President Obama's new climate plan is bold. I salute him for the wise plan. Climate change mitigation is everybody's duty to have a clean world.

Dr. A. Jagadeesh Nellore (AP), India

Posted by Dr.A.Jagadeesh on 23 Jul 2013


Natural gas and Obama save earth! Burning more natural gas, which leaks methane like a sieve, while exporting record amounts of coal for others to burn makes Obama a genius. Yale rhymes with stale.

Posted by Robert on 23 Jul 2013


Obama doesn't have a 'climate plan' except to geoengineer his way into the good graces of the financial community.

Posted by Austin Observer on 23 Jul 2013


Where is the part of the "President's climate plan" that challenges the assumption of endless growth on a finite planet? It won't be, not ever. And that means there will be no climate relief but there will be a lot of political theater around the pretense of doing something.

Every talking head you list here is up to their elbows in oil including Bill McKibben. The talk about converting to "non-polluting clean fuel sources" is like the fiction of perpetual motion. It only works in the realm of the imagination. As Chris Hedges aptly points out, we are hopelessly addicted to "hope" as a solution to our predicaments.

Most of the above quoted talking-heads have never contemplated what it takes to maintain their imperial set of living arrangements nor the very real possibility of near-term human extinction. They see the climate crisis as another problem to be "solved" with "engineering".

Posted by Michael Sosebee on 24 Jul 2013


I wish Yale E360 would break out of its habit of asking the same same same voices, many vested, to comment. Why not look a little further afield for some input. I am co-director of Biofuelwatch. We participate in a national grassroots network of people and communities opposing biomass incinerators as "renewable energy." There are lots of great activists opposing nuclear, fracking and other dirty energy. Try talking with THE PEOPLE. Ask indigenous peoples to chime in. This is tedious and needs fresh insights.

Posted by Rachel Smolker on 25 Jul 2013


I see in these comments some hope that this plan can move us in the right direction--and that is my belief. I would like to see a bolder plan, but in this real world of climate politics 2013, can we imagine a bolder plan that would stand any chance of being carried out? I don't think so. The Congress still holds the purse strings.

As for the cynics here (and I understand their position), I wish they would use that same energy to work for real-world solutions.

Posted by Larry Chamblin on 27 Jul 2013


Well if history is something to go by, the U.S. will drag the chain and put being voted back in money ahead of the environment. When the climate is so screwed up that no one with any semblance of intellect can deny it, then we will see action happen on a big scale. Climate change will force the U.S. and world leaders to bring in new technology to clean up the environment. Big business and all tiers of government will have to work together to bring in the clean green economy. The need to go to a hydrogen economy is urgent to eliminate fossil fuels and then try and restore our environment over the generations.

We are not going to fix it in an instant, it took a couple of hundred years to screw it up and get to this situation. One thing is for sure Mother Nature will change her climate to suit what parameters are in play. It doesn't matter if one denies Climate change or not or how much money or power one has. I feel sorry for the future generations to try and sought out the mess were making. ..... John Duczek

Posted by john from Kapunda AUSTRALIA on 06 Aug 2013


Nicolas Loris, senior policy analyst, The Heritage Foundation’s Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies, seems to base his science on the findings of the Science and Public Policy Institute.

The following information clearly shows (as might be expected) that the Institute is firmly rooted in the right wing's world of distortion and denial:

[The Science and Public Policy Institute] describes itself as:
a nonprofit institute of research and education dedicated to sound public policy based on sound science. Free from affiliation to any corporation or political party, we support the advancement of sensible public policies for energy and the environment rooted in rational science and economics...

The organization's Executive Director is Robert "Bob" Ferguson, who was previously executive director of an organisation called Center for Science and Public Policy.[2] He is also a former Chief of Staff to Republican Congressmen Jack Fields (1981–1997), John E. Peterson (1997–2002), and Rick Renzi (2002). The chief policy adviser is Christopher Monckton, a former special adviser to Margaret Thatcher. Joe D'Aleo is the institute's Meteorology Adviser. Further science advisers, as listed in 2011, include:
Robert M. Carter
Craig D. Idso
William Kininmonth
David Legates
Willie Soon, a proponent of the theory that climate change is caused by solar variation, was at one time the chief science advisor.[3]
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Science_and_Public_Policy_Institute
http://scienceandpublicpolicy.org/our_mission.html
http://scienceandpublicpolicy.org/personnel.html

On its homepage one can read:
“Science based policy for a better world.”
Here's some information about the persons responsible for that science:
Monckton was educated at Harrow School and Churchill College, Cambridge (where he received his B.A. (Classics, 1974, Cantab., now M.A.)), and at University College, Cardiff, where he obtained a diploma in journalism studies...

Monckton...has referred to himself as "a member of the Upper House of the United Kingdom legislature" in a letter to US Senators,[14] and also as "a member of the Upper House but without the right to sit or vote."[15]
The House of Lords authorities have said Monckton is not and never has been a member and that there is no such thing as a non-voting or honorary member of the House.[6][16] In July 2011 the House took the "unprecedented step" of publishing online a cease and desist letter to Monckton from the Clerk of the Parliaments, which concluded, "I am publishing this letter on the parliamentary website so that anybody who wishes to check whether you are a Member of the House of Lords can view this official confirmation that you are not."[17][18]
...Monckton has asserted that he served as science adviser to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher during his years with the Number 10 Policy Unit, and that "it was I who—on the prime minister's behalf—kept a weather eye on the official science advisers to the government, from the chief scientific adviser downward."[30] However, John Gummer, who was Environment Minister under Thatcher, has said that Monckton was "a bag carrier in Mrs Thatcher's office. And the idea that he advised her on climate change is laughable."[31] Writing in The Guardian, Bob Ward of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment notes that Thatcher's memoirs, The Downing Street Years, do not mention Monckton and credit George Guise with the role of science advisor.[30]
...After a presentation by Monckton at Bethel University (Minnesota), Professor John P Abraham[44] of University of St. Thomas (Minnesota) produced a rebuttal to Monckton's claims.[45] Abraham investigated the origins of many of the claims by contacting the authors of those papers Monckton had cited[46][47] and concluded that "he had misrepresented the science".[47]
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_Monckton,_3rd_Viscount_Monckton_of_Brenchley

In short, Monckton has no scientific background, he has repeatedly made grandiose, unsubstantiated claims about himself, he misrepresents his sources, and his “science” has been thoroughly debunked. See also:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=okJXxWBsulk
(Skip the introduction. The mordant demolition starts at 0.01:11.)

Another of the Institute's scientific advisors is David Legates:

Legates is a signatory of the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation's "An Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming".[9]
The declaration states:
"We believe Earth and its ecosystems — created by God’s intelligent design and infinite power and sustained by His faithful providence — are robust, resilient, self-regulating, and self-correcting, admirably suited for human flourishing, and displaying His glory. Earth's climate system is no exception."

...According to the News Journal, "the Union of Concerned Scientists published a study listing Legates among several scientists it described as 'familiar spokespeople from ExxonMobil-funded organizations' that have regularly taken stands or sponsored reports questioning the science behind climate change warnings."[11] Legates is a senior scientist of the Marshall Institute,[12] a research fellow with the Independent Institute,[13] and an adjunct scholar of the Competitive Enterprise Institute,[14] all of which have received funding from ExxonMobil.[15][16]
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Legates

I recognize that The Heritage Foundation has a loud voice in the American political debate. I think though that Yale Environment 360 should ask whether Heritage's suggestions are based on ideological fantasies or facts. Differing points of view are not equally legitimate. Some are not legitimate at all.

Posted by Philip C Stone on 08 Aug 2013


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