In a Monday speech at Georgetown University, President Barack Obama gave a preview of forthcoming major initiatives to address climate change and environmental concerns.
The President is expected to unveil his plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on Tuesday and little to none of what he may suggest will require Congressional action, according to multiple media reports.
Some of the details of the climate change proposal revealed today include:
- Limiting carbon pollution from existing power plants;
- Directing the EPA to devise standards for emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases from existing power plants;
- Completing standards for new fossil fuel power plants;
- A new round of fuel efficiency standards for heavy-duty trucks;
- New efficiency targets for appliances and buildings to cut carbon pollution; and
- Loan guarantees for energy efficiency and fossil fuel projects
All told, the plan could push the United States to meet a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 17% below 2005 levels by 2020, and it is likely to ignite years worth of litigation and Congressional objection to the efforts.
Industry experts point out that there are only three fuels that can produce baseload electricity 24/7. They are nuclear, coal and natural gas, of which both coal and natural gas emit carbon dioxide.
Some warn that retiring those power plants without sufficient back-up provisions or new nuclear plants, which bring a different set of politics to the equation, could curtail baseload electricity that constitutes the majority of current power needs.
In Arkansas, there was quick reaction to the news.
Bentonville-based Wal-Mart, which has embarked on aggressive plans to use renewable energy and reduce its environmental footprint, gave an enthusiastic thumbs up.
“We applaud the President and his administration for their commitment to renewable energy and conservation,” said Wal-Mart CEO Mike Duke. “Investing in renewable energy and energy conservation are good for business, good for communities and good for the environment. When we use less energy, that’s less energy we have to buy, and that means less waste and more savings for our customers.”
Sandra Byrd, vice president of member and public relations for the Arkansas Electric Cooperatives Corp., warned that the aggressive actions and fast-track for implementation would have a detrimental impact on Arkansas.
“We have great concerns about this,” said Byrd, a former chairperson of the state’s Public Service Commission. “It’s definitely not going to be good for rural Arkansas or rural America.”
Byrd said the most problematic goal would be placing standards on existing power plants that run on coal and other fossil fuels. She said it would be difficult enough to meet strict standards for newly constructed plants, but facilities currently in operation have few options for compliance.
“Any changes to existing environmental regulations that would force less usage of our coal plants will increase costs to consumers and potentially impact the reliability of the grid,” she said.
Glen Hooks, Senior Campaign Representative with Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, disagreed.
“This is the change Americans and Arkansans have been waiting for on climate,” Hooks said.
He noted that there are three coal-burning power plants in Arkansas that his group has targeted as problematic.
“Today’s announcement squarely addresses these dirty plants and will go a long way toward protecting Arkansans’s health from dangerous coal pollution,” he said.
Randy Zook, CEO for the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce/Associated Industries of Arkansas, said the President’s plan would take the state’s and country’s economy backwards.
“It’s an unprecedented attack on jobs and it will put Arkansas and the rest of the U.S. at a disadvantage,” said Zook.
He said coal is a necessary component to the nation’s energy policy and eliminating it from the portfolio of reliable energy sources is wrong.
“We need to figure out smart ways to use this valuable resource, not turn our backs on it and waste the opportunity to fuel a competitive economy.”