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President Obama’s Speech on Climate Change & Reaction
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President Obama’s Speech on Climate Change & Reaction

ObamaBut in the late 1950s, the National Weather Service began measuring the levels of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, with the worry that rising levels might someday disrupt the fragile balance that makes our planet so hospitable.  And what they’ve found, year after year, is that the levels of carbon pollution in our atmosphere have increased dramatically.

That science, accumulated and reviewed over decades, tells us that our planet is changing in ways that will have profound impacts on all of humankind.

– President Barack Obama, 6/25/13

President Obama gave a speech on Climate Change yesterday at Georgetown University. Here’s the full transcript on the Wall Street Journal. Guest blogger Russell Zerbo of the Clean Air Council shares his remarks on the speech and the impact on our nation.

If for nothing else, the President should be proud that the Pennsylvania Coal Alliance is not applauding his Climate Action Plan. John Pippy, head of the Coal Alliance, said, “We’re talking about shutting down plants and generating capacity at a time when many parts of the electric grid are stressed and vulnerable.” Yet ironically, the President didn’t talk about shutting down plants and the electric grid is neither stressed nor vulnerable.

Barack Obama’s Political History on Climate

After being elected, but before being inaugurated, President Barack Obama predicted,

My presidency will mark a new chapter in America’s leadership on climate change that will strengthen our security and create millions of new jobs in the process.

It will be a long time before we can test Obama’s goal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 80% in 2050 and invest $150 billion in energy-saving technologies. The “millions of new jobs” promised in November of 2008 are currently at about 117,000. Obama has met his goals for renewable megawatts, doubling generation capacity during the last three years and now promising that the federal government will run on 20% renewable energy by 2015 (just like Philly!). The Department of Defense (the largest consumer of federal energy) alone is tasked with generating 3 gigawatts of their own renewable power.

During his second inauguration President Obama, addressing climate change abatement as a moral imperative, said, “If Congress doesn’t act soon to protect future generations, I will.” Yesterday, the President announced a bevy of funding to improve energy policy, but there is still no limit on the amount of carbon dioxide a new power plant can emit.

Obama’s announcement comes as Philadelphia endures a string of dangerous ozone air quality days, scientists investigate an unexplained tsunami off the coast of New Jersey and the US Center for Naval Analyse’s recent statement that getting off foreign fuel is just the tip of the melting iceberg. Carbon dioxide levels and overall fuel consumption have gone down, surpassing Obama’s goal of reducing fuel consumption by 2.5% annually.

The President should be proud to highlight 20-year-lows in carbon dioxide emissions (along with net oil imports), reducing energy demand by 2.9% in 2012 and continued efforts toward energy efficiency, fuel economy standards and expediting permits for wind & solar projects. In Tuesday’s address, the President stressed that as carbon emissions have gone down over 20 years, the economy has grown by 60% . Since 2009, Obama’s pursuit of sustainable energy resources has led the Department of Interior to approve enough solar, wind and geothermal generation sites to power 4.4 million homes. The new goal is to power 6 million homes sustainably by 2020.

Climate Change & Power Plants

power plantPower plants produce 40% of America’s carbon dioxide pollution as the largest single source. Unfortunately, this will continue. The President has the power to finalize a limit on CO2 for new power plants that was originally proposed in March of 2012 (the lack of action since has put the EPA in violation of the Clean Air Act) and instead “is issuing a Presidential Memorandum directing the Environmental Protection Agency to work expeditiously to complete carbon pollution standards for both new and existing power plants.”

It is disappointing to see funding for fossil fuel advancement in the “Cutting Carbon Pollution” section of the President’s climate plan. While saying, “We can’t just drill our way out the energy and climate challenges we face,” the White House is putting $7.9 billion into “clean energy technologies, such as efficient natural gas, nuclear, renewables, and clean coal technology” (which is an oxymoron…).

Closing Thoughts on President Obama’s Speech

While the federal government’s new goal to consume 20% of its energy from renewables by 2020 is laudable, it is troubling to see the administration continue to make unnecessary compromises to the fossil fuel industry that has done nothing, but smear and discredit his efforts to protect America from the effects of  carbon dioxide pollution. It does seem a reluctant compromise as Obama called for an “End to tax breaks for oil companies.” Even though the President has the power to limit carbon pollution he described the lack of a rule as, “not right, it’s not safe, it needs to stop.”

The Clean Air Council and Sierra Club were at the EPA offices last week, politely reminding them that there is no limit on carbon dioxide pollution from power plants. 

Clean Air Council EPA

Coal stocks have dropped since President Obama’s announcement.

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Russell Zerbo is the federal advocacy coordinator at the Clean Air Council. He likes to participate in comment periods and write letters to the editor. He graduated from the College of William and Mary in 2011 with a degree in government. View all posts by Russell Zerbo
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