Obama: 'We Don't Have Time for a Meeting of the Flat Earth Society'

The president described a wide-ranging executive agenda on climate change in a speech at Georgetown University on Tuesday.
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Reuters

President Obama laid out a detailed plan to address the causes and impacts of climate change in a speech at Georgetown University on Tuesday. "I refuse to condemn your generation and future generations to a planet that's beyond fixing," he said.

A thread throughout Obama's plan is the idea that addressing climate change is a "moral obligation" to our children. The two-page outline of the plan sent to reporters Monday evening came with the subhead "Taking Action for Our Kids," and mentioned "kids" or "future generations" a total of four times. The theme carried throughout his speech on Tuesday. "Your children's children will have to live with the consequences of our decisions," he said.

Here are the key components of the plan aimed at reducing US emissions:

  • Directs the EPA to issue draft emission rules for existing power plants by June 2014, to be finalized by June 2015.
  • Asks the EPA to "work expeditiously" on finalizing rules for new power plants that the agency issued in March 2012 (though does not appear to include a due date for that).
  • Pledges that the federal government will draw 20 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2020.
  • Sets a goal of permitting an additional 10 gigawatts of renewable energy on public lands by 2020.
  • Sets a goal of putting 100 megawatts of renewable energy on federally subsidized housing by 2020.
  • Creates a new, $8 billion loan guarantee program for advanced fossil fuel projects at the Department of Energy (think clean coal, etc.).
  • Directs the EPA and the Department of Transportation to work on fuel economy standard for heavy-duty trucks, buses, and vans for after 2018 (following up on the 2014-18 rules they rolled out in 2011).
  • Sets a goal of cutting at least 3 billion tons of carbon pollution by 2030 through improvements in energy efficiency standards.
  • Calls for an end to US funding for fossil fuel energy projects overseas unless they include carbon capture technology.

Obama said that the Keystone XL pipeline should only be approved if it "does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution."

The rules for existing power plants could be huge news, as old, dirty plants account for 40 percent of all emissions in the United States. But there are scant details on what exactly those rules will entail. The EPA has missed deadlines on emissions, and other important rules have been stuck at the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs within the White House's Office of Management and Budget for months.

While Obama did not explicitly endorse or reject the Keystone XL pipeline, a major issue for climate activists, he did state in the speech that the pipeline should only be approved if it "does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution." "The pipeline's effect on climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project will go forward," he said.

The draft environmental impact analysis the State Department released in March found that it wouldn't dramatically increase emissions, prompting environmentalists to worry about what that means for the administration's decision. The EPA, however, has said that State's evaluation of the greenhouse gas impact of the pipeline isn't good enough. A senior administration official told reporters on Monday night that the State Department is still awaiting a final environmental analysis. "This proposal is not yet ready for a decision," the official reiterated.

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Kate Sheppard covers energy and environmental politics in the Washington bureau of Mother Jones. She was previously the political reporter for Grist and a writing fellow at The American Prospect. More

Kate Sheppard covers energy and environmental politics in the Washington bureau for Mother Jones. She was previously the political reporter for Grist and a writing fellow at The American Prospect. Her work has also been featured in the New York Times Room for Debate blog, The Guardian's Comment is Free, The Center for Public Integrity, The Washington Independent, ForeignPolicy.com, Washington Spectator, Who Runs Gov, In These Times, and Bitch.

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