What’s in Obama’s Climate Plan?

Here’s what you need to know about the climate-change plan President Obama will announce Tuesday afternoon at a speech in Washington, D.C. 

  • Obama will issue a memorandum on Tuesday setting a timeline for the Environmental Protection Agency to “expeditiously” move forward with contentious regulations controlling greenhouse-gas emissions from both new and existing power plants, the latter which account for nearly 40 percent of the nation’s carbon emissions. Obama will direct the EPA to propose the rule for existing power plants by June 2014 and finalize that rule by June 2015. This is the cornerstone of his plan.

  • Obama will not make any announcements about the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which environmentalists have been urging him to reject. A final decision on the project is not expected until the end of this year or beginning of 2014.

  • Nothing in Obama’s plan, outlined in a 21-page report the White House released Tuesday morning, requires congressional approval. In fact, the word “Congress” doesn’t show up once in the report.

  • Much of the plan builds off progress the administration made in Obama’s first term, including speeding up permitting for renewable energy on public lands, tightening energy-efficiency standards, and ramping up fuel-economy standards for trucks.

  • One new component of the plan is the Energy Department’s draft solicitation to make $8 billion in loan guarantee authority available for advanced fossil-fuel projects, including so-called “clean coal” technology, which experts say is critical to ensure coal remains a part of the mix in a carbon-constrained economy. This doesn’t mean the administration is spending $8 billion upfront on the loan guarantees. It means it will be able to leverage that amount of private-sector investment with loan guarantees.

  • With input from several other federal agencies, EPA will develop a comprehensive strategy aimed at reducing emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Natural gas is almost 95 percent methane, and environmentalists worry that America’s natural-gas boom is actually worse for climate change if the methane emissions are not controlled.

  • One big section of the report focuses on what the federal government can do in response to the effects of more extreme weather. Obama is moving forward with a package of relatively modest proposals that urge federal agencies to make better investments and to work with state and local officials to protect against stronger storms, hurricanes, droughts, and heat waves.

  • The third and final part of the report focuses on what Obama can do on the international stage. Among the most substantive points here is the administration’s intent to seek global free trade in environmental goods, including clean-energy technologies such as solar and wind power.

  • Obama will call to end U.S. government support for public financing of new coal plants overseas, except in cases where “no other economically feasible alternative exists” in the poorest countries or in cases where “clean coal” technology is being used. How often these two exceptions arise will be key to how successful this effort can be.