The White House climate action plan, announced in a speech Tuesday, comes down hard on coal-fired power plants, pledges continued support for the development and use of non-polluting renewable energy and promotes "cleaner-burning natural gas" as a bridge to a clean future.
President Obama's much-anticipated climate action plan, which was posted on the White House website as the president spoke, came down hard on coal-fired plants, while promoting renewable fuels along with fuel switching from coal to natural gas, a global market for natural gas, and the adoption of heavy-duty natural gas vehicles.
Speaking from the steps of Georgetown University, Obama said the crackdown on carbon pollution "does not mean that we're going to suddenly stop producing fossil fuels."
There is a place for natural gas. The nation should "strengthen our position as top natural gas producer," Obama said, endorsing "more cleaner burning natural gas, which provides safe, cheap power." He pledged to work with industry to make drilling safer and to contain methane emissions.
On the long-pending question of permitting of the Keystone XL pipeline to carry crude from Canada's oilsands to the U.S. Gulf Coast, Obama said it would depend on a finding by the State Department that it is in the nation's interest and the "net effect" of the pipeline is not to exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.
Through 2016, the president has directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to work closely with states, industry and other stakeholders to establish carbon pollution standards for both new and existing power plants. The federal government currently has no restrictions on carbon pollution from power plants, the president said.
To that end, Obama issued a presidential directive to the EPA to begin drafting rules governing carbon emissions from power plants.
"It's not right. Its not safe and it needs to stop...It's time for Washington to catch up with the rest of the country," he said. He also advocated greater reliance on fuel efficiency and fuel standards by the United States.
The goal of Obama's plan is to cut carbon pollution, which is the biggest driver of climate change in the United States and the world. Power plants are the largest source of emissions, accounting for 33%, with transportation coming in second at 28%, according to the White House.
The United States should take the global lead in lowering emissions. "We've got a vital role to play. We can't stand on the sidelines." The government should "partner with [the] private sector to apply our technological know-how in countries that transition to natural gas," Obama said. He further called for an end to public financing for power plants oversees unless they deploy carbon-capture technology. "They don't have to repeat all of the mistakes that we made."
Thanks to natural gas, he said, the U.S. has made some headway in reducing carbon pollution. "We produce more natural gas than anyone else," which has helped to drive carbon to the lowest level in 20 years, Obama said. "So it's a good start...But we've got more to do."
The United States is working with international partners on an Unconventional Gas Technical Engagement Program to share best practices on issues such as water management, methane emissions, air quality, permitting, contracting and pricing "to help increase global gas supplies and facilitate development of the associated infrastructure that brings them to market," the climate plan said. "Going forward we will promote fuel-switching from coal to gas for electricity production and encourage the development of a global market for gas. Since heavy-duty vehicles are expected to account for 40% of increased oil use through 2030, we will encourage the adoption of heavy-duty natural gas vehicles as well."
Natural gas trade associations expressed their support for Obama's gas-friendly climate action plan even before he officially rolled it out Tuesday.
"We're pleased that the president's...plan supports the important role of natural gas in achieving clean energy goals, not only in our country but also globally," said the Natural Gas Supply Association, which represents large gas producers and marketers.
"The increased use of natural gas in power generation has had a significant and immediate impact, reducing U.S. carbon emissions to a 20-year low in 2012," the group said. "The companies that supply the nation's natural gas stand ready to help achieve a global market for natural gas."
Don Santa, CEO of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA), said, "We are pleased to see that President Obama's climate action plan recognizes natural gas as a key component of America's clean energy future. Like the president, we agree that the United States cannot make meaningful greenhouse gas emission reductions without employing our nation's abundant natural gas.
"INGAA recognizes methane as a potent greenhouse gas, and we support efforts to gain greater knowledge on methane emissions. We believe it important to use sound science to detect data gaps and identify technologies, best practices and incentive-based opportunities to reduce emissions."