Ahead of Obama’s Climate Change Speech, Coal and Environmental Groups React

President Obama is scheduled to lay out his plan for addressing climate change this afternoon, and politicians and organizations have already begun weighing in.

The president’s plan, if fulfilled, makes good on his promise to reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions levels 17 percent from its 2005 levels by 2020. Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide, and a lot of that carbon dioxide comes from power plants. Obama’s proposal includes instituting CO2 emissions standards for both new and existing power plants, as well as new heavy-duty truck fuel efficiency standards. It gives $8 billion in loan guarantees for innovative energy projects—including carbon capture and sequestration and other coal technology—and sets more ambitious goals for the generation of renewable energy on public lands.

In a speech on the Senate floor today, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell blasted the Obama Administration for a statement made by one of his scientific advisors earlier this week. As geochemist Daniel Schrag told the New York Times

“Everybody is waiting for action,” he said. “The one thing the president really needs to do now is to begin the process of shutting down the conventional coal plants. Politically, the White House is hesitant to say they’re having a war on coal. On the other hand, a war on coal is exactly what’s needed.”

Schrag’s comment refers to the large amounts of greenhouse gases emitted by older coal plants, and the effect those emissions are having on climate change. But McConnell took the remarks as a sign of Obama’s true feelings about coal:

“It’s an astonishing bit of honesty from someone that close to the White House. But it really encapsulates the attitude this Administration holds in regard to states like mine, where coal is such an important part of the economic well-being of so many middle-class families.  

“And it captures the attitude it holds in regard to middle-class Americans across the country, where affordable energy is critical to the operation of so many companies and small businesses – and to those businesses’ ability to hire Americans and help build a ladder to the middle class for their families. 

“Declaring a ‘War on Coal’ is tantamount to declaring a war on jobs. It’s tantamount to kicking the ladder out from beneath the feet of many Americans struggling in today’s economy. And I will be raising this issue with the President at the White House today.

In his speech, McConnell didn’t mention climate change or pollution.

Here’s what Rep. John Yarmuth had to say about the plan:

“Louisville’s air quality is among the worst in the nation, and nearly 1 in 5 adults and 1 in 10 children in Kentucky are suffering from asthma, which is exacerbated by carbon pollution. And yet, there are no federal regulations in place to regulate carbon. That is why today, President Obama proposed a series of measured responses – including the first federal standards for carbon emissions – to address the devastating health, environmental, and economic consequences of climate change. This plan will not only make the air we breathe safer, it will also spur investments in clean, sustainable energy technologies that will help our businesses grow and create new jobs.”

Environmental groups lauded Obama for his plan. Here’s a sampling:

From Dan Lashof, director of the Climate and Clean Air Program with the Natural Resources Defense Council:       

“The country is facing a threat; the president is facing facts. This plan takes aim at the heart of the problem: the dangerous carbon pollution from our power plants. Reducing that pollution is the most important step we can take, as a nation, to stand up to climate change.”           

From Ned Helme, president of the Center for Clean Air Policy

“Targeting greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants is a game changer that shows the United States is serious about addressing climate change. But it is important that EPA be flexible about how utilities can comply. Combined heat and power technologies that produce electricity along with useful heat are promising and should be encouraged by the regulations. Another hopeful direction is increased reliance on abundant natural gas. By recommending a flexible approach, EPA’s rules can reduce carbon pollution cost effectively and produce jobs that revitalize America’s manufacturing sector. In fact, states in the industrial Midwest stand to benefit greatly despite what critics are saying. President Obama’s announcement should be seized upon by the states as an opportunity to increase economic growth, not stifle it.”

From Sierra Club Cumberland Chapter Chair Alice Howell:

“We need to recognize that it is time to work toward a clean energy future that moves beyond our long history as a coal state. Mountaintop mining has significantly damaged our land and streams. Air pollution from the burning of coal has compromised the health and safety of our citizens. Kentucky can help to address climate change and move the state to a healthier and more economically sustainable future. The President’s plan gives us hope that he will cement his climate legacy and protect future generations by halting mountaintop removal, ending destructive oil drilling in the Arctic, rejecting dangerous nukes, abandoning dirty fossil fuels in favor of clean energy – and by making the critically important decision to reject the dirty and dangerous Keystone XL pipeline.”

Meanwhile, coal groups echoed McConnell’s remarks.

From National Mining Association President Hal Quinn:

“Americans are looking for jobs and economic security. Coal power plants generate more electricity and create and sustain more jobs than any other energy source. So policies that shut off coal energy damage the nation’s job and economic engine, while also raising costs to American consumers.

“New coal plants are best-in-class global leaders in generating efficient, clean, reliable and affordable electricity.

“Existing coal plants are being upgraded to be cleaner than ever before to supply reliable electricity that keeps our country growing and competitive.

“Our policies need to be aligned with our national interest so that coal continues to create jobs and keeps America competitive.”

From Kentucky Coal Association President Bill Bissett:

“Pres. Obama will continue his administration’s actions to end coal usage in the United States. While these actions may be supported by anti-coal activists, it will have a devastating effect on Kentucky’s economy. As the nation’s third largest coal producer, few Kentuckians support the President or his actions, and Kentucky’s lack of support was made loud and clear with the state’s election results of 2012. At a time when the rest of the world is increasing their usage of coal, the United States is going in the opposite and wrong direction. Kentucky’s low-cost electricity advantage will be removed, manufacturers will flee our state, and Kentuckians’ electricity bills will nearly double. This increase in cost will not only impact our home electric bills, but every facet of our lives that relies upon electricity, so the negative economic consequences are multiplied significantly, especially in our population centers of Louisville and Lexington.”

 

Read the whole plan here.

Obama will deliver his speech around 1:55pm. Watch it here:

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Erica Peterson

Erica Peterson reports on energy and the environment for WFPL.

@ericampeterson

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