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President Obama Releases Climate Action Plan

Last week during a speech at Georgetown University, President Barack Obama outlined a suite of executive actions in his Climate Action Plan to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020 and prepare the nation for the impacts of climate change.

Central to the plan is the Environmental Protection Agency promulgating draft carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions standards for existing power plants by 2014. In addition, the plan directs the Department of the Interior (DOI) to permit enough renewable energy projects on public lands to power six million homes, and for federally assisted housing to deploy 100 megawatts of new renewable energy, both by 2020. The plan sets a goal for 20 percent of all energy for federal buildings to be from renewable sources by 2020, and for the federal government to reduce its emissions by at least three billion tons cumulatively by 2030.

Obama’s plan will also release $8 billion in loan guarantees for advanced fossil fuel and efficiency projects, and strengthen the Better Building Challenge to increase building efficiency 20 percent by 2020.

Along with domestic GHG reduction provisions, the plan directs federal agencies to help the nation prepare for climate-related impacts. Climate resilience measures include: support for climate-resilient infrastructure investments; the convening of a short-term climate preparedness task force composed of state, local and tribal officials; and the development of guidelines to support local communities planning for climate impacts.

Climate Plan Impacts on Pennsylvania
For as much as Obama praised the use of natural gas, he shunned the use of coal, making for a debate that is both good and bad for Pennsylvania. While the state has become a national leader in natural gas production, it is also one of the top users of coal. Pennsylvania ranks as the nation’s second-biggest electric power generator and its biggest electricity exporter – with nearly half of the state’s electricity coming from coal.

Obama’s plan includes more renewable energy production, increased efficiency standards, and $8 billion in loans for technology. The plan also limits carbon pollution from power plants that produce 40 percent of the country’s carbon dioxide emissions and a third of greenhouse gasses.

While Obama did say that he supports “clean coal,” Governor Corbett criticized Obama for promoting a “war on coal”, which most Republicans equate to a “war on jobs.”

It may be difficult for some companies to comply with stringent emissions standards, which the Pennsylvania Coal Alliance estimated could lead to a reduction in coal mining jobs from 9,000 to 6,000.

The fall of coal could mean an even bigger rise for natural gas. Several natural gas burning power plants have been proposed across the state, and NRG Energy Inc. has announced that it will convert its Lawrence County plant from coal to gas to keep it from closing.

Overall, Obama’s plan is in the beginning stages right now, so with no concrete outline, it is difficult for companies to properly assess how they may be affected. That assessment will come after the EPA drafts rule proposals, which could take month and would most likely be followed by open comment period, review, and final drafts.