With his administration under pressure from environmentalists to reject the Keystone XL pipeline project, President Barack Obama plans to unveil a package of separate actions next month focused on curbing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
At closed-door fundraisers held over the past few weeks, the president has been telling Democratic party donors that he will unveil new climate proposals in July, according to people who have attended the events or been briefed.
Obama’s promise frequently comes in response to pleas from donors to reject TransCanada Corp. (TRP)’s proposed Keystone XL project, a $5.3 billion pipeline that would carry tar-sands oil from Canada to U.S. refineries. Opponents of the pipeline say it would increase greenhouse-gas emissions by encouraging use of the tar sands.
While Obama has not detailed the specifics of his plan to the donors, pipeline opponents anticipate the package will include final rules from the Environmental Protection Agency to limit greenhouse-gas emissions from new power plants. In April, the EPA delayed issuing the rule after the electric-power industry said the initial proposal was unworkable. Since then, the agency has been revising the rules, and environmental groups are urging the EPA not to scale back its initial plan.
The White House plan may also include pledging to issue a standard for limits on existing power plants, something EPA officials have said they expect to propose in the next 18 months.
Final decisions about the specific policies included in the president’s package are still being made, according to a person close to the White House.
“We’re not going to be able to make those changes solely through a bunch of individual decisions,” he said at a June 6 event hosted by Flipboard Chief Executive Officer Mike McCue. “Government is going to have a role to play.”
With Congress unlikely to take up a climate bill, the plans largely focus on actions the president can take with his existing executive authority. White House officials have been soliciting ideas for administrative actions that can be taken to curb greenhouse gases.
White House officials didn’t reply to a request for comment.
Administration aides, however, hinted earlier this week that more action may be coming soon.
“In the coming weeks and months, you can expect to hear more from the president on this issue,” White House environment and energy adviser Heather Zichal said at an environmental forum on June 11.
Climate advocates have urged the president to move quickly and release plans to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.
“If he’s serious about it, he needs to get a plan in place,” former vice president Al Gore told listeners in a Google video chat on June 11. “He needs to use the bully pulpit.”
Any climate proposal released by the White House won’t be enough to assuage activists and donors pushing Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline.
“There can’t be a trade-off,” Daniel Kessler, a spokesman for the group 350.org, which is organizing the opposition to Keystone, said in an interview. “There is not a trade that makes sense from the physics perspective.”
The pipeline is designed to carry about 830,000 barrels a day from Alberta and shale formations in the U.S. along a route that would traverse six states. The administration has previously given approval for the pipeline’s southern leg to relieve an oil glut in Cushing, Oklahoma.
Oil and gas producers say the project will create thousands of jobs and boost U.S. energy security.
The environmental community has mobilized in opposition to the project, which has become a test of the president’s commitment to curbing climate change.
The State Department is currently assessing the impacts of the pipeline and is expected to release a final environmental review in the coming weeks.
The draft State Department environmental impact statement concluded the Alberta oil would find its way to customers with or without Keystone. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has said the department’s review wasn’t thorough enough.
After the State Department issues a final environmental assessment, it will determine whether Keystone is in the national interest by evaluating issues such as economic impact, trade and relations with foreign governments. A final decision is expected in the U.S. fall.
After Obama pledged in his inaugural address to tackle climate change, environmentalists have grown increasingly restive as no new efforts have been announced, various regulations were delayed and TransCanada has predicted that Keystone would be greenlighted.
“The good news is that President Obama has pledged to act, and he has the power to do it,” filmmaker Robert Redford said in an advertisement released by Natural Resources Defense Council this week. “I just hope the president has the courage of his convictions.”
Global emissions of carbon dioxide rose 1.4 percent in 2012 to record levels, according to a report this week by the International Energy Agency.
“A broader climate agenda is far more important in the grand scheme of things,” said Josh Freed, director of the Clean Energy Program at Third Way, a Democratic-leaning policy group in Washington, D.C. “Keystone is a battle but climate is the war.”
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