Obama calls for end of ‘limitless’ carbon pollution by power plants

President Obama plans to have the Environmental Protection Agency draft CO2 emissions rules for existing fossil power plants in 2015, and have the United States discontinue its public financing for most coal plants in other countries – unless they are equipped with CO2 capture technology.

During a June 25 address at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., the president also said he wants the federal government to use 20% renewable energy for its electricity within the next few years.

Obama outlined a variety of goals but did not offer a litany of details on how the nation would shave its annual CO2 emissions significantly.

During the speech Obama praised everything from state renewable portfolio standards (RPS), new nuclear plants being built in the Southeast, natural gas power generation and renewable energy commitments by companies like retail giant Walmart.

He said he was calling on federal agencies such as the Interior Department and the Department of Defense to “double again” the amount of electricity coming from sources like wind and solar power by 2020.

Obama stressed the importance of “using less dirty energy; using more clean energy [and] wasting less energy throughout our economy.” He said that nearly 40% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions come from power plants.

Currently, such emissions occur “free,” and that has to stop, Obama said. EPA must “put an end to limitless carbon pollution from our power plants,” he said.

On energy use, the federal government has to lead by example, Obama said. “Your federal government will consume 20% of its electricity from renewable sources within the next seven years.”

Obama said he still supports a bipartisan legislative solution on CO2 and briefly alluded to the failure of the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill to win approval from both chambers of Congress during his first term.

Until there is a legislative fix, Obama said he is committed to take executive branch action. New EPA standards on CO2 must be developed “in an open and transparent way,” he added.

EPA has already been drafting a final CO2 rule for new power plants and there has been much speculation about the EPA issuing CO2 regulations for the existing fleet.

Obama calls gas an important transition fuel

Many power companies have already begun modernizing their plants and many are using cleaner-burning natural gas, which Obama called a “transition fuel” to a clean energy economy.

The nation should “strengthen our position as the top natural gas producer,” Obama said. The administration will work to make sure this natural gas extraction occurs responsibly, he added.

Most states today have either an RPS requirement or a non-mandatory clean energy target, Obama said.

“It’s time for Washington to catch up” with the rest of the country, “and that’s what we intend to do,” Obama said.

Naysayers always say big environmental moves will cripple the economy and this has always been proved wrong, Obama said. He cited the success of the federal Clean Air Act and similar efforts, often supported by Republicans.

Obama said CO2 emissions in the United States are significantly lower today than when he took office, but more needs to be done.

“This does not mean we are suddenly going to stop producing fossil fuels. Our economy wouldn’t work very well if it did,” the president said. Domestic oil production is at its highest in years. But the nation simply can’t “drill” its way to economic success, Obama said.

Speaking of oil industry issues, Obama said he supports cutting subsidies for oil companies and said that the government will only approve the Keystone pipeline project for Canadian oil if it will not worsen the global climate change situation.

GOP foes “need to call home” on renewable electricity because 75% of it comes from Republican districts. Countries like China and Germany are going “all in” on clean energy and the United States should as well.

These steps could reduce carbon pollution dramatically, Obama said.

“I want to be honest, this won’t get us there overnight,” Obama said. “It’s like tapping the brakes of a car before you come to a complete stop.”

Obama said that the United States cannot solve the problem alone. While U.S. carbon emissions have fallen lately, international CO2 emissions continue to increase. “I am convinced that this is a fight that America can and will lead in the 21st century,” Obama said.

Obama said Republicans have a long and proud history on environmental issues – from President Richard Nixon starting the EPA to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., sponsoring a market-based CO2 control bill.

The Senate should approve Gina McCarthy to head EPA “without any further obstruction or delay,” Obama said. Unfortunately, McCarthy’s nomination is being held up by certain GOP members who don’t want EPA regulating CO2, he said.

“I am willing to work with anybody … I am open to all sorts of ideas,” Obama said. But that doesn’t necessarily include those who deny there is a problem. “We don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society,” Obama said.

Another part of the carbon plan includes making new U.S. infrastructure more resistant to severe weather events, like flooding, Obama said.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.