U.S. President Barack Obama wipes his face as he speaks about climate change, Tuesday, 25 June 2013, at Georgetown University in Washington. The president is proposing sweeping steps to limit heat-trapping pollution from coal-fired power plants and to boost renewable energy production on federal property, resorting to his executive powers to tackle climate change and sidestepping the partisan gridlock in Congress. Photo: Charles Dharapak / Imagine China

President Obama has unveiled a proposal to combat global warming that would, for the first time, regulate carbon dioxide emissions from all U.S. coal-fired power plants. Yale Environment 360 asked a group of experts to assess the president’s climate strategy.

22 July 2013 (Yale Environment 360) – Stymied by Congress, and no longer weighed down by concerns about re-election, President Barack Obama decided last month to take assertive action on climate change, unveiling a host of administrative actions to regulate carbon emissions, encourage the development of renewable energy, promote energy efficiency, and prepare the country to adapt to a warmer world.

To judge how effective the president’s climate plan might be, Yale Environment 360 asked a panel of policy makers, environmentalists, and scientists to answer the following questions: Do you think President Obama’s recently announced climate change plan will make a major contribution to reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and, in particular, do you think he will succeed in regulating CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants by the end of his term?


Michael Mann, climate scientist and director of the Penn State Earth System Science Center

Climate scientist Michae Mann. Photo: e360.yale.eduUltimately, we need a comprehensive energy and climate policy that prices carbon pollution and levels the playing field for renewable sources of energy that are not degrading our climate and planet. But given that we have an intransigent Congress (the current House Science Committee leadership continues to deny even the existence of human-caused climate change), the president has been forced to turn to executive actions. His call for carbon emission limits on all coal-fired power plants, not just newly built plants, is a bold step forward. It will go some way to stemming our growing carbon emissions and the impact they are having on our climate.
The president's comments about the Keystone XL pipeline are also encouraging. He indicated that he will block the pipeline if it is going to lead to increased carbon emissions. Since all objective analyses indicated that the construction of the pipeline will lead to increased carbon emissions (because it will lead to far greater extraction of Canadian tar sands oil), this should translate to a decision not to move forward on that project. 
Finally, the president spelled out promising ways forward to (a) introduce greater incentives for renewable, non-carbon based energy, (b) reduce energy usage/improve energy efficiency, and (c) adapt to those climate change impacts which are already locked in and unavoidable.

All in all, it is the most aggressive and promising climate plan to come out of the executive branch in years. […]

Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign

Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal CampaignPresident Obama's climate plan, with carbon pollution standards for coal plants as its centerpiece, is a roadmap that could help us finally curb climate change. But whether or not his plan will actually reduce carbon emissions is now up to us. The president’s plan is a testament to the grassroots climate movement. For more than a decade, more than 100 organizations have worked to tackle our biggest source of carbon pollution: coal plants. 149 coal plants have announced their retirement since 2010, and clean energy like wind and solar are powering the nation at record levels. Meanwhile, EPA safeguards limiting power plant carbon emissions are required by the Clean Air Act, have been upheld by the Supreme Court, and are strongly supported by the American public. Not surprisingly, polluters are already lobbying hard for a weak standard. But we will push for strong safeguards, while also tackling other key climate issues left out of the president’s plan, including natural gas fracking, mountaintop removal, and the sweetheart deal for coal companies on public lands. President Obama’s plan is the beginning of a crucial new chapter in our climate fight — one we all have an opportunity, and a responsibility, to shape. [more]

Forum: How Daring is Obama's New Climate Plan?

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