Hints at Release of Obama
President Barack Obama delivers his inaugural address at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Jan. 21, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
“We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.” Hearing President Obama say those words during his second inauguration speech was an incredible moment for the people and organizations that have been waiting—and fighting—for years for meaningful climate change legislation and regulations. Yet the wait has dragged on since that day in January 2012. Finally, it may be coming to an end. In recent days, White House officials have indicated that Obama will soon make a major climate change announcement.
Heather Zichal, the president’s top energy and climate change advisor, told reporters last week that “in the coming weeks and months,” they could “expect to hear more from the president on this issue,” as reported by the Los Angeles Times and other news outlets.
Though Zichal didn’t offer specifics, Obama’s plan will likely focus on rules for existing power plants, renewable energy, and the EPA, Politico reports. Zichal’s indication that a major climate change announcement is on the way coincided with Obama’s speech in Germany on June 19, where he declared that climate change is “the global threat of our time” and called for “a global compact.”
While Zichal didn’t explicitly say that setting standards for power plants would be part of the plan, doing so is an essential aspect of any serious climate policy. The electricity sector is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, accounting for 33% of total emissions in 2011.
Last year, the EPA proposed limits on greenhouse gas emissions for new power plants which would effectively end the construction of traditional coal-fired power plants. (A 2007 Supreme Court decision gave the EPA authority to regulate greenhouse gases.) The agency was due to finalize the regulation this past April, but missed the deadline. And the EPA has yet to propose limits on emissions from existing power plants. The missed deadline prompted three environmental groups, as well as a group of 12 states and cities, to threaten lawsuits against the agency. But those lawsuits have been put on hold until Obama unveils his plan.
Some environmentalists are concerned that Obama will tie the release of new climate change measures to his approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. Tom Steyer, a major Obama campaign donor and anti-Keystone XL activist, said taking measures to combat climate change shouldn’t be seen as a “trade” for approving the pipeline, Bloomberg reports. And Van Jones, a former White House adviser on green jobs, told the publication, “When you raise your kids, you cannot say, ‘Here is this one good thing I am doing, so ignore all the other bad things I am doing over here.”
As the wait for decisive action continues, evidence continues to mount for how widespread the impacts of climate change will be.
A report from the National Wildlife Federation details how climate change is already affecting migratory birds; as insects emerge earlier, for example, birds arrive only to find that their main food source is already gone. Another report from the World Bank details the likelihood of extreme droughts and reduced crop yields by the 2040s, especially in poorer regions of the world. And FEMA’s newly-released report forecasts that coastal and riverine Special Flood Hazard Areas will increase by 40 to 45 percent by the year 2100.
The message is clear: Now more than ever, we need strong, decisive action on climate change.
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