Your Guide to the White House Climate Action Plan

President Obama’s highly anticipated Climate Action Plan (CAP) released today outlines a wide variety of executive actions founded on three pillars: slashing U.S. carbon pollution through stringent rules for new and existing power plants while doubling renewables deployment and promoting fuel switching from coal to natural gas; preparing the U.S. for impacts of climate change; and leading international efforts to combat global climate change.

President Obama in 2009 pledged that the U.S. would reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the range of 17% below 2005 levels if all other major economies agreed to limit their emissions as well. And in his February State of the Union address he pledged that his administration would enact executive actions if Congress did not pursue a “bipartisan, market-based solution” to tackle climate change.

In its Tuesday-released CAP, the White House rationalizes an urgent need for executive action on climate change, citing current impacts of climate change across the country and the world, saying: “These changes come with far-reaching consequences and real economic costs.” Climate disasters from 11 different weather and climate events last year alone resulted in estimated losses of more than $1 billion each across the U.S.—for a total of more than $110 billion in estimated damages.

Following are some key actions outlined in the 21-page blueprint to “slow the effects of climate change” released by the White House on June 25:

“Expeditious” Completion of EPA GHG Rules. The CAP describes a Presidential Memorandum directing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to work “expeditiously” to complete carbon pollution standards proposed in April 2012 for new power plants—and to set up carbon rules for existing plants. “In developing the standards, the President has asked the [EPA] to build on state leadership, provide flexibility, and take advantage of a wide range of energy sources and technologies including many actions in this plan,” it says.

Power plants are the largest concentrated source of emissions in the U.S., accounting for about one-third of all domestic GHG emissions, the CAP says, though the document also notes that many states, local governments, and companies have taken their own steps to move to cleaner electricity sources. More than 35 states have renewable energy targets in place, and more than 25 have set energy efficiency targets. The EPA’s proposal “reinforces” an ongoing trend toward “cleaner technologies,” it says, pointing out that natural gas has increased its share of power generation in recent years through market forces and renewables deployment has grown to account for roughly half of new generation capacity installed in 2012.

“Promote” Power Plant Fuel Switching from Coal to Gas. Going forward, the CAP says, the Obama administration will “promote” fuel switching domestically and worldwide from coal to natural gas for power production and encourage the development of a global market for gas (as well as adoption of heavy duty natural gas vehicles). It will also expand efforts to promote nuclear power while maximizing safety and nonproliferation goals.

Double Renewable Generation from Current Levels by 2020. Notably, the CAP outlines the president’s goals to double renewable generation from current levels by 2020. That key, admittedly “ambitious” target will be met by accelerating clean energy permitting, including permitting 10 GW more of renewables on public lands by 2020 (the Interior Department already had permitted 10 GW of renewables on public lands by the end of 2012) and encouraging development of hydropower at existing dams. The administration singled out the Red Rock Hydroelectric Plant on the Des Moines River in Iowa to “develop and demonstrate improved permitting procedures.”

Other measures to accelerate renewables deployment include the Presidential Memorandum issued earlier this month that directs federal agencies to streamline the siting, permitting, and review process for transmission projects across federal, state, and tribal governments.

Increased Funding for Clean Energy. The CAP also urges increased funding for clean energy technology across all agencies by 30% to about $7.9 billion, including investment in a range of technologies from small modular reactors to carbon capture and storage technologies. But that measure runs against legislative efforts in Congress, where just last week the House Appropriations Committee advanced a bill to slash $1.4 billion in funding to Department of Energy (DOE) renewable energy and scientific research programs—including an 81% spending cut on the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) program.

Loan Guarantees for Advanced Fossil Energy Projects. According to the CAP, the DOE is expected to issue a Federal Register notice in the coming weeks announcing a draft of a solicitation that would make up to $8 billion in (self-pay) loan guarantee authority available for a wide array of advanced fossil energy projects under Section 1703. The proposed solicitation is expected to cover a broad range of advanced fossil energy projects. The DOE will take comment on the draft solicitation and plan to issue a final solicitation by the fall of 2013, the CAP says.

Preparing for Climate Change. Among a number of measures proposed to prepare the U.S. for the impacts of climate change is an expected DOE assessment of climate change on the U.S. energy sector, including power plant disruptions due to drought and fuel supplies during severe storms. (See the early release of POWER’s July cover story, “Water Issues Challenge Power Generators,” which looks at what power plants and researchers are doing to address the effects of drought on generation.)

Engaging Major International GHG Emitters in Climate Negotiations. The White House said it would also engage China, India, and other major emitting countries in bilateral initiatives to spur concrete action on climate change. In the past three years, the U.S. reached agreements with more than 20 countries, including Mexico, South Africa, and Indonesia, to support low-emission development strategies that help countries to identify the best ways to reduce GHG emissions while growing their economies. “Looking ahead, we will target these and other resources towards greater penetration of renewables in the global energy mix on both a small and large scale, including through our participation in the Sustainable Energy for All Initiative and accelerating the commercialization of renewable mini-grids,” the CAP says.

Sources: POWERnews, The White House

Sonal Patel, Senior Writer (@POWERmagazine, @sonalcpatel)

NOTE: This story was originally published on June 27