On June 25, President Obama laid out a plan to combat climate change that includes solar and wind projects on U.S. public lands, new energy-efficiency standards and fuel-economy requirements, and greater limits on greenhouse-gas emissions of all kinds.
Whether he’s successful will depend a lot on how his administration manages two of his biggest initiatives: placing carbon-emissions limits on existing U.S. power plants and helping the developing world switch to cleaner forms of energy. Both these efforts hinge on moving away from coal, which still provides 40 percent of electricity in the U.S. and almost 80 percent in China.
Domestically, Obama wants to use the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s authority under the Clean Air Act to reduce pollution from power plants, which produce 40 percent of the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions and a third of its greenhouse gases. It’s promising that administration officials say they’ll ask the states to offer up their own ideas. A flexible state-by-state strategy, along the lines of what was proposed in March by the Natural Resources Defense Council, could give the power industry a seat at the table and allow it to reasonably manage a transition from coal to natural gas and wind, solar, and other renewables.
Internationally, Obama should also focus on getting countries such as China access to cheaper natural gas. With Asian prices almost four times those in the U.S., it’s little wonder that natural gas powers only 4 percent of China’s electricity. A new gas pipeline from Russia should increase the supply, and the Obama administration is right to encourage it. Exports of U.S. natural gas would help, not only to China but also to many other developing countries.
Obama also wants to establish a state and local task force on preparedness, assist local communities, and strengthen federal and military buildings. His plan is mostly silent on the need for new funds, to say nothing of where they would come from. Here’s an area where Congress, along with state and local governments, ultimately will need to step in.