Changing Planet

Obama Shares Plan for Action on Climate Change

In a speech at Georgetown University Tuesday, President Barack Obama outlined a long-awaited executive strategy—comprised mostly of initiatives already underway—to curb greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.

“As a president, as a father and as an American, I’m here to say, ‘We need to act,’” Obama said. “I refuse to condemn your generation and future generations to a planet that’s beyond fixing.”

The plan includes measures previously speculated to be a part of the overall climate change reduction strategy, including boosting renewable energy on federal land and tightening energy efficiency standards. At its heart the plan relies on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations to reduce emissions from new and existing power plants responsible for one third of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.

The agency issued a proposed rule for new power plants in April 2012, a rule the president said will be finalized soon after a new proposal is submitted no later than September 30, 2013. Once finalized, the rule will trigger a requirement under section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act for the EPA to regulate existing sources. Under Obama’s plan, the proposed rule for existing plants wouldn’t be issued until June 2014, and may not be finalized for another year afterward.

The Clean Air Act provision addressing performance standards for existing facilities—specifically, Section 111(d)—calls for a partnership between the EPA and state governments under which the EPA identifies an emission target, then states design and implement the performance standards that are subject to the agency’s approval. The combination of limited precedent and the statute’s general language should provide the EPA with a broad array of options for setting the emission target and evaluating the adequacy of state plans to achieve it.

To spur investment in technologies that keep carbon dioxide produced by power plants from being released into the atmosphere, Obama will make roughly $8 billion in federal loan guarantees available. This will fund a variety of advanced energy projects, including carbon capture and storage.

‘Wiggle Room’ Still Left for Keystone XL Decision

Obama’s thinking on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline—carrying 830,000 barrels of oil per day from Canada’s tar sands to Texas—is subject to interpretation.

“Our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution,” Obama said. “The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward.”

The Washington Post reports that Obama may have left himself some “wiggle room” on the decision—expected as early as this summer. In March, the State Department issued a draft environmental impact statement finding Keystone XL wouldn’t lead to significantly more carbon pollution. The administration has said it will examine whether vetoing the project would mean higher emissions than if it were built.

Renewable Energy to Double

Renewable energy is another key initiative in Obama’s climate strategy, and he shared plans Tuesday to issue permits for 10 gigawatts of renewable energy on federal land and 100 megawatts of installed renewable capacity for federally-subsidized housing. The move would double production by 2020.

The plan’s release coincides with the International Energy Agency’s release of a five-year energy outlook identifying global renewable energy as fast growing—edging out natural gas as the second largest electricity source, after coal, by 2016.

Supreme Court to Review Cross State Air Pollution Rule

The Supreme Court will review the lower court’s decision striking down the EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, which would set limits for emissions from coal-fired power plants that cross state lines. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals’ overturned the rule in August 2012, stating the agency exceeded its authority under the Clean Air Act by imposing “massive emissions reduction requirements.”

The rule would cap emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides in 28 states in the eastern half of the country where pollution blows into neighboring jurisdictions. In a statement, the EPA told POWERnews it was “pleased” with the decision to reconsider the rule, but “the Supreme Court’s decision to grant our petition is not a decision on the merits but instead a decision to review the case on merits. As such, it does not alter the current status of [CAIR] or the Cross-State Rule.”

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

Tim Profeta is the founding director of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions. The Nicholas Institute is part of Duke University and focuses on improving environmental policy making worldwide through objective, fact-based research in the areas of climate change, the economics of limiting carbon pollution, oceans governance and coastal management, emerging environmental markets and freshwater concerns at home and abroad. In his role at the Nicholas Institute, Profeta has continued to use his experience on Capitol Hill to engage in climate change debates. His research has focused, specifically, on market-based approaches to environmental regulations—particularly energy and climate change policy. Other projects engage his expertise in environmental law and air pollution regulation under the Clean Air Act.

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