Meeting the Challenge of Climate Change

In June, President Obama laid out the case for action on climate change and the steps his Administration will take to address it. In his Climate Action Plan, the President announced steps to cut the emissions of carbon pollution, prepare the United States for the impacts of climate change, and lead international efforts to combat global climate change.

Three months later, the Administration is well on its way implementing the President’s plan. Already, the Administration has announced new renewable energy projects on public lands, we are taking steps to make our communities more resilient to the effects of severe weather, and we are working with our international partners to reduce emissions of powerful greenhouse gasses. At home and abroad, we are making real progress, and we have results to show for it.

Today, the EPA announced another milestone by re-proposing carbon pollution standards for new power plants. With this announcement, the EPA is taking responsible, steady steps to cut carbon pollution, protect the air we breathe, and develop affordable, American-made clean energy. For years we have had limits in place for arsenic, mercury and lead that power plants can release, and today we are taking a common-sense step to reduce the carbon pollution that is contributing to higher rates of asthma attacks and more frequent and severe floods and heat waves. The President is serious about taking on the challenge of climate change, and with today’s announcement we are proving that we can deliver on that promise.

Here are some more highlights from our progress since the President announced the Climate Action Plan.

Progress Report: President Obama’s Climate Action Plan
Taking Action for Our Kids

Less than three months ago, President Obama delivered an address at Georgetown University that underscored the moral obligation we have to leave our children a planet that’s not polluted or damaged. The President issued a Climate Action Plan for his second term that – building on the accomplishments of the first four years – advances policies to cut carbon pollution, keeping our air and water clean and protecting our kids.  

The Administration has achieved a number of Climate Action Plan implementation milestones: 

Cutting Carbon Pollution in America. In 2012, U.S. carbon pollution (CO2) from the energy sector fell to the lowest level in nearly two decades even as the economy continued to grow. Building on this progress, the Administration has taken important steps to promote American leadership in renewable energy, improve the efficiency of the commercial and housing sectors, and support cleaner and innovative conventional energy technology. Specifically:

  • The Department of the Interior (DOI) is making progress towards achieving the goal in the Climate Action Plan of permitting enough renewable energy projects on public lands by 2020 to power more than 6 million homes.
    • On June 28, DOI approved up to a 500 megawatt wind project in Arizona, which will provide enough power for 175,000 homes. The BP Wind Mohave County Wind Farm will be located on public land northwest of Kingman, AZ;  
    • On August 13, DOI approved 40 megawatts geothermal energy project in California. The Casa Diablo IV Geothermal Project will be located near the town of Mammoth Lakes on Inyo National Forest lands and could power up to 36,000 homes with clean energy, and;
    • After holding the first-ever competitive offshore wind lease sale in July off the shores of Rhode Island and Massachusetts, DOI held a second offshore wind lease sale in Virginia on September 4. Bidders competed for access to more than a quarter of a million acres offshore;
  • The Climate Action Plan set a goal to reduce carbon pollution by at least 3 billion metric tons cumulatively by 2030 – equal to more than half of the annual carbon pollution from the U.S. energy sector – through energy efficiency standards set over the course of the Administration for appliances and federal buildings. In August, the Department of Energy (DOE) issued three new proposed energy efficiency standards. If the three proposed rules issued in August were to be finalized as proposed, taken together with the Administration’s accomplishments to date, we would surpass 60 percent of the President’s goal for emissions reductions from energy efficiency standards. Specifically, the Administration:
    • Proposed energy efficiency standards for metal halide lamp fixtures, such as the type of lighting often seen inside big box retail stores and sports stadiums. If adopted as final, this rule could cut energy bills by up to $3 billion and result in CO2 emissions reductions of over 40 million metric tons over 30 years;
    • Proposed energy efficiency standards for commercial refrigeration equipment, such as restaurant-size fridges or the deli case at a convenience store. If adopted as final, this rule could cut energy bills by up to $4 billion and result in CO2 emissions reductions of 55 million metric tons over 30 years, and;
    • Proposed energy efficiency standards for walk-in coolers and freezers, such as the milk display at the supermarket. If adopted as final, this proposed rule could cut energy bills by up to $24 billion and result in CO2 emissions reductions of 298 million metric tons over 30 years.

The potential carbon dioxide reductions from these three standards alone would be the equivalent of taking over 80 million new cars of the road for one year. The energy saved from these proposed rules would be equal to the amount of electricity used by 85 million homes in a year.

  • On August 27, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, working with the Army Energy Initiatives Task Force (EITF), awarded Multiple Award Task Order Contracts (MATOC) to a group of 22 qualified solar technology contractors. In addition, on September 9, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, working with the EITF, awarded Multiple Award Task Order Contracts to a group of 17 qualified wind technology contractors. The MATOC represents a major step forward in the procurement of renewable energy for the Army and the other Services that will significantly reduce timelines by streamlining acquisition processes. Utilizing the MATOC in this way will assist the EITF in meeting the Army's goal for one gigawatt renewable energy by 2025;
  • On July 18, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) convened the home mortgage lending community, appraisers, and other stakeholders to identify opportunities to better account for energy efficiency in the Federal Housing Administration mortgage underwriting and appraisal process, and;
  • On July 2, the DOE announced a draft loan guarantee solicitation for $8 billion in support for innovative and advanced fossil energy projects and facilities that substantially reduce greenhouse gas – such as carbon capture and low-carbon power systems.

Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change. Even as we take new steps to cut carbon pollution, we must also prepare for the impacts of a changing climate that are already being felt across the country. Since the President’s address, the Administration has released the Hurricane Sandy Task Force Rebuilding Strategy, which will help guide investments to protect families, small businesses, and communities across the affected region from the risks posed by sea level rise and more extreme weather events. We have also launched a competition through the DOI for projects that build resilience through the use of natural systems, announced public-private and intergovernmental partnerships to bolster extreme weather response and increase climate resilience, released reports identifying vulnerabilities to climate change in the energy sector, and recognized local leaders who are helping their communities prepare for the impacts of climate change. Specifically:

  • On August 19, the Hurricane Sandy Task Force issued its Rebuilding Strategy, which will help guide the investment of rebuilding funds and assist communities across the nation to prepare for the increasing risks caused by climate change and extreme weather;
  • On August 12, DOI launched a $100 million Hurricane Sandy Coastal Resiliency Competitive Grant Program.  The competition will fund projects that promote resilient natural systems while enhancing green spaces and wildlife habitat along the Sandy-impacted landscape, helping coastal communities and key habitats to withstand the impacts of future storms;
  • On August 26, the DOE announced a partnership with the New Jersey Transit Corporation (NJTC) to explore the design, construction, and implementation of an advanced microgrid system that would make NJTC more resilient in the face of extreme weather;  
  • On July 19, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and DOI announced a Federal, local and private partnership to protect America’s water supply from the risks of wildfire. The Western Watershed Enhancement Partnership is a comprehensive approach to identify and mitigate risks of wildfire to parts of our nation's water supply, irrigation, and hydroelectric facilities;
  • On August 12, DOE and the Council of Economic Advisors (CEA) released a report on electric grid resilience (Economic Benefits of Increasing Electric Grid Resilience), which evaluated the current capacity of the grid to maintain power during natural disasters, analyzed the economic impacts of grid failure, and provided recommendations on how to better protect the grid. The report reinforced the findings of a DOE publication, released July 10, which assessed the vulnerability of America’s critical energy and electricity infrastructure to the impacts of climate change (U.S. Energy Sector Vulnerabilities to Climate Change and Extreme Weather), and;
  • On July 9, the White House hosted an event honoring eleven “Champions of Change” who are working on the front lines to protect public health in a changing climate. These Champions are raising awareness about the health consequences of climate change and helping their communities prepare for climate-related health impacts.

Leading International Efforts to Address Global Climate Change. Just as no country is immune from the impacts of climate change, no country can meet this challenge alone. That is why, over the past three months, the Administration has led multilateral and bilateral efforts to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, advanced international climate negotiations, and pushed for new action to promote energy efficiency in buildings. Specifically:

  • On September 6, G-20 leaders (Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union), as well as Ethiopia, Spain, Senegal, Brunei, Kazakhstan, and Singapore expressed support for  using the expertise and institutions of the Montreal Protocol to phase down climate-damaging hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a highly potent greenhouse gas;
  • In addition, building on their breakthrough June 8 agreement on HFCs in Sunnylands, President Obama and China’s President Xi agreed as a next step to establish a contact group under the Montreal Protocol. A global phase down of HFCs could potentially reduce roughly two years’ worth of current global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050;
  • At the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue in July, new joint efforts were launched to reduce greenhouse gas pollution through improved heavy-duty vehicle performance; smart grids; carbon capture, utilization, and storage; collecting and managing greenhouse gas data; and energy efficiency in buildings and industry, and;
  • In June, at the US-India Strategic Dialogue, a range of new joint initiatives were announced, including a new U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) loan guarantee to mobilize at least $100 million for clean energy investments, new collaboration on smart and efficient space cooling, and a new climate change working group to intensify bilateral cooperation.
Heather Zichal is the Deputy Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change.