Obama’s Great Climate Change Speech

Saying the time has come to “act before it is too late,”  President Obama gave a sweeping speech on climate change in his usual inspiring, yet pragmatic style.

“As a president, as a father and as an American, I’m here to say we need to act,” he said.

He covered most of the bases, clearly hitting it home that the increasingly bizarre, severe weather is absolutely connected to a warming climate.

Those of us who desperately want him to reject the Keystone tar sands pipeline even got a nod – we didn’t expect him to mention it at all. This was the first time he directly linked approval of the pipeline to its effect on the climate:

“Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interests. Our national interest would be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”

His main points on how he plans to address the climate crises without the help of the obstructionist, climate denying Republican party that stands in the way of transitioning to a healthy, environmentally safe economy:

  • The big one everyone’s been waiting for: direct the EPA to regulate carbon emissions from existing power plants (40% of US emissions) and finalize those that are ready for new ones (should Republicans allow Gina McCarthy to be confirmed as its head).The problem is that these rules will be tied up in court and probably won’t see the light of day during Obama’s presidency.
  • Advance energy efficiency standards for a host of appliances, federal buildings and heavy duty trucks
  • Double the amount of solar and wind on public lands  (from where they are today) and put 100 megawatts on federal housing by 2020.
  • Address climate forcers by stopping the release of methane from natural gas operations and phasing out HFCs.
  • No more public funding for coal plants anywhere in the world unless they can capture the carbon emissions (through entities like the Ex-Im Bank)
  • Lead the world in international efforts to attain the long-sought for treaty
  • Help American communities prepare for the effects of climate change we can no longer prevent.

Obama reiterated his target of reducing emissions 17% below 2005 by 2020, which while not far-reaching enough, can be achieved through the above measures.

Noting that federal agencies have cut emissions 15% since he took office, he will direct them to cut another 20%.

He spoke frankly about his position on natural gas, calling it an important transition fuel to even cleaner fuels. He specifically said methane emissions must be stopped, but for now, he views it as an important industry that can significantly lower US carbon emissions. While we believe that efficiency and renewables are all we need, we respect Obama’s thoughtfulness in expressing his opinion.

He called on Congress once again to stop subsidizing big oil companies and redirect that money to clean energy.

GOP Backlash

Obama spent some time talking about the inevitable backlash from entrenched interests, noting that they always make the same tired and inaccurate claims: it costs too much, it will kill jobs and the economy, businesses will quietly go away.

That wasn’t the case, he said, when we successfully addressed acid rain (at a much lower cost than anyone expected), and implemented the Clean Air Act under Republican presidents.  “That’s what they said every time,” Obama said. “And every time, they’ve been wrong.”

Referring to those who continue to dispute settled science, Obama said, “I don’t have much patience” for people who refuse to acknowledge the problem. “We don’t have time for a meeting of the flat-earth society.”

True to form, Republicans quickly quipped: it’s a “war on coal” and a “war on jobs.”

“It’s tantamount to kicking the ladder out from beneath the feet of many Americans struggling in today’s economy,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

But the hilarious commentary comes from Heartland Institute:

“In discussing the rationale for his climate change and energy plan, President Obama claims that carbon dioxide, or CO2, ‘causes climate change and threatens public health’ and that ‘cutting carbon pollution will help keep our air and water clean and protect our kids.’ Unfortunately, President Obama’s statements could not be further from the truth. Far from being a ‘pollutant,’ carbon dioxide is the elixir of life,” says Craig Idso,
Senior Fellow, Environment for Heartland.

“Webster’s defines the word charlatan as ‘one making showy pretenses to knowledge or ability.’ While we do not expect the president to possess a science degree, his audacity in proselytizing on a subject such as climate change that he knows so little about is a reflection of his arrogance. Clearly, should our country be forced to pursue the goals that he has set regarding curbs on carbon emissions, the economic impact will be no less devastating on our economy than it has been for many European nations. The underlying science is unsubstantiated and the economic effects from the implementation of the proposed policy would be pernicious,” says Paul Crovo, Energy Analyst and Policy Advisor for Heartland.

Doesn’t Go Far Enough

From our point of view, getting up on the podium and talking solely about climate change is an important step that’s been way overdue (and he needs to do more of it). Obama’s action plan is a series of modest but essential steps in a time when extremely aggressive policies are needed to forestall catastrophic climate change.

But we also know Obama doesn’t exactly have the wind at his back. There’s no way to get a National Renewable Energy Standard and a Carbon Tax without support from Congress … and that’s not happening. Then again, Americans already pay a carbon tax, paying for all the disasters.

Reactions from the environmental community:

Michael Brune, Executive Director of Sierra Club says:

“The President’s strong commitment to using climate pollution as the standard by which Keystone XL will be decided means his decision to reject it should now be easy.  Any fair and unbiased analysis of the tar sands pipeline shows that the climate effects of this disastrous project would be significant.

“There is still more work to be done. The President’s climate commitment and his speech today gives us great hope that he will finally address some of the remaining, worst abuses of the fossil fuel industry, including dirty and dangerous fracking, ending the devastating practice of mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia, halting destructive oil drilling in the Arctic, and overhauling the sweetheart deal on public lands that pads the bottom line of coal companies at public expense.”

The Center for Biological Diversity says:

“We’re happy to see the president finally addressing climate change but the plain truth is that what he’s proposing isn’t big enough, and doesn’t move fast enough, to match the terrifying magnitude of the climate crisis,” says Bill Snape, senior counsel.

“The key point in the president’s plan is a vague directive to the Environmental Protection Agency to establish carbon pollution standards for new and existing power plants – standards already required by law. The plan fails to address the Keystone XML pipeline, fracking on public lands and other dirty extreme-energy projects that could fatally undermine the climate change fight.”

“To achieve the necessary emission reductions, the Center is urging the Obama administration to declare carbon dioxide a “criteria pollutant” under the Clean Air Act and set a national pollution cap no greater than 350 parts per million (ppm), the level scientists and countries agreed not to exceed because it will cause catastrophic global warming.

“This “carbon cap” would not require new legislation. The Center is also urging pollution caps for six other greenhouse gases, including methane and nitrous oxide.


Here is Obama’s action plan:


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