Obama climate plan calls for new fuel economy standards for heavy-duty vehicles post-2018; cleaner fuels and investment in advanced fossil energy
Among the transportation-related elements of US President Barack Obama’s new climate action plan, which he is outlining today in a speech at Georgetown University, is the development of new fuel economy standards for heavy-duty vehicles post-2018. In 2011, the Obama Administration finalized the first fuel economy standards for Model Year 2014-2018 for medium- and heavy-duty trucks, buses, and vans. (Earlier post.)
The plan as outlined also calls for further work on advanced biofuels, advanced batteries and fuel cell technologies in every transportation mode. In coming months, the plan notes, the Department of Transportation will work with other agencies to further explore strategies for integrating alternative fuel vessels into the US flag fleet.
The plan. President Obama’s plan, which sidesteps the need for Congressional involvement by relying on a wide variety of executive actions, has three main components:
- Reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the US.
- Preparing the US for the impacts of climate change.
- Leading international efforts for GHG emission reductions and adaptation.
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the US. The headliner in this segment is the issuance of a Presidential Memorandum directing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to work “expeditiously” to complete CO2 emission standards for both new and existing power plants. The standards for new plants—already being developed by EPA—are to be done this fall. A proposal for existing plants is due in 2014, with targeted file rule in 2015.
The plan also calls for accelerating the permitting for renewable power generation on public lands and upgrading the grid. In terms of investment in innovation for cleaner energy, the plan calls for:
Investment in advanced fossil energy projects. In the coming weeks, DOE will issue 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 its Section 1703 loan guarantee program. This solicitation is designed to support investments in innovative technologies that can cost-effectively meet financial and policy goals, including the avoidance, reduction, or sequestration of anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases. The proposed solicitation will cover a broad range of advanced fossil energy projects.
DOE will take comment on the draft solicitation, with a plan to issue a final solicitation by the fall of 2013.
A Federal Quadrennial Energy Review. The QER will be led by the White House Domestic Policy Council and Office of Science and Technology Policy, supported by a Secretariat established at the Department of Energy, and involving the engagement of federal agencies and outside stakeholders. This review will focus on infrastructure challenges, and will identify the threats, risks, and opportunities for US energy and climate security, with the intent of enabling the federal government to translate policy goals into a set of sequenced and integrated actions and proposed investments over a four-year planning horizon.
New energy efficiency standards. In President Obama’s first term, the DOE established new minimum efficiency standards for dishwashers, refrigerators, and many other products. The new goal is that efficiency standards for appliances and federal buildings set in the first and second terms combined will reduce carbon pollution by at least 3 billion metric tons cumulatively by 2030—equivalent to nearly one-half of the CO2 emissions from the entire US energy sector for one year.
Reducing barriers to investment in energy efficiency. The Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service will finalize a proposed update to its Energy Efficiency and Conservation Loan Program to provide up to $250 million for rural utilities to finance efficiency investments by businesses and homeowners across rural America. The Department is also streamlining its Rural Energy for America program to provide grants and loan guarantees directly to agricultural producers and rural small businesses for energy efficiency and renewable energy systems.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s efforts include a $23-million Multifamily Energy Innovation Fund designed to enable affordable housing providers, technology firms, academic institutions, and philanthropic organizations to test new approaches to deliver cost-effective residential energy.
The Federal Housing Administration will convene representatives of the lending community and other key stakeholders for a mortgage roundtable in July to identify options for factoring energy efficiency into the mortgage underwriting and appraisal process upon sale or refinancing of new or existing homes.
Expanding the Better Buildings Challenge. The Better Buildings Challenge targets helping American commercial and industrial buildings becoming at least 20% more energy efficient by 2020. The Administration will expand the program to multifamily housing. In addition, the Administration is launching the Better Buildings Accelerators, a new track that will support and encourage adoption of State and local policies to cut energy waste, building on the momentum of ongoing efforts at that level.
The plan also outlines a series of actions against non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions:
Hydrofluorocarbons. Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are primarily used for refrigeration and air conditioning, are potent greenhouse gases. In the United States, emissions of HFCs are expected to nearly triple by 2030, and double from current levels of 1.5% of greenhouse gas emissions to 3% by 2020.
EPA will use its authority through the Significant New Alternatives Policy Program to encourage private sector investment in low-emissions technology by identifying and approving climate-friendly chemicals while prohibiting certain uses of the most harmful chemical alternatives. In addition, the President has directed his Administration to purchase cleaner alternatives to HFCs whenever feasible and transition over time to equipment that uses safer and more sustainable alternatives.
Methane. Methane currently accounts for roughly 9% of domestic greenhouse gas emissions and has a global warming potential that is more than 20 times greater than carbon dioxide. Since 1990, methane emissions in the United States have decreased by 8%.
Under the President’s plan, EPA and the Departments of Agriculture, Energy, Interior, Labor, and Transportation will develop an interagency methane strategy. The group will focus on assessing current emissions data, addressing data gaps, identifying technologies and best practices for reducing emissions, and identifying existing authorities and incentive-based opportunities to reduce methane emissions.
As part of the effort to develop an interagency methane strategy, the Obama Administration will work collaboratively with state governments, as well as the private sector, to reduce emissions across multiple sectors, improve air quality, and achieve public health and economic benefits.
Preparing the US for the impacts of climate change. The Administration will expand its current efforts to support adaptation into three major, interrelated initiatives: building stronger and safer communities and infrastructure; protecting the economy and natural resources; and managing climate impacts through advancing “the science of climate management”.
Among the many elements of this segment are:
- Directing agencies to support climate-resilient investment;
- Establishing a state, local, and tribal leaders task force on climate preparedness;
- Supporting communities as they prepare for climate impacts;
- Boosting the resilience of buildings and infrastructure;
- Rebuilding and learning from Hurricane Sandy;
- Identifying vulnerabilities of key sectors to climate change;
- Promoting resilience in the health sector;
- Promoting insurance leadership for climate safety;
- Conserving land and water resources;
- Maintaining agricultural sustainability;
- Managing drought;
- Reducing wildfire risks;
- Preparing for future floods;
- Developing actionable climate science (proposed $2.7 billion in FY 2014 budget);
- Assessing climate-change impacts in the United States;
- Launching a climate data initiative; and
- Providing a toolkit for climate resilience.
Leading international efforts for GHG emission reductions and adaptation. The Obama Administration is proposing building on the 2009 Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate by launching a major initiative this year focused on further accelerating efficiency gains in the buildings sector, which accounts for approximately one-third of global carbon pollutions from the energy sector.
The Administration will also seek to expand bilateral cooperation with major emerging economies. The Administration is also working with partner countries to put in place the systems and institutions necessary to reduce global land-use-related emissions.
The Administration will work towards greater penetration of renewables in the global energy mix on both a small and large scale, including through its participation in the Sustainable Energy for All Initiative and accelerating the commercialization of renewable mini-grids. Other efforts will include:
Natural Gas. Burning natural gas is about one-half as carbon-intensive as coal, which can make it a “bridge fuel” for many countries as the world transitions to even cleaner sources of energy. Toward that end, the Obama Administration is partnering with states and private companies to exchange lessons learned with international partners on responsible development of natural gas resources.
The Unconventional Gas Technical Engagement Program shares 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.
Going forward, the Administration 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, it will encourage the adoption of heavy duty natural gas vehicles as well.
Nuclear Power. The United States will continue to promote the safe and secure use of nuclear power worldwide through a variety of bilateral and multilateral engagements.
Coal. The United States works with China, India, and other countries that currently rely heavily on coal for power generation to advance the development and deployment of cleaner coal technologies. In addition, the US leads the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum, which engages 23 other countries and economies on carbon capture and sequestration technologies. Going forward, the Administration will continue to use these bilateral and multilateral efforts to promote advanced coal technologies.
Energy Efficiency. The Obama Administration will work to expand its energy efficiency efforts focusing on several critical areas, including: improving building efficiency, reducing energy consumption at water and wastewater treatment facilities, and expanding global appliance standards.
The US will also work with trading partners to launch negotiations at the World Trade Organization towards global free trade in environmental goods, including clean energy technologies such as solar, wind, hydro and geothermal. It will also work in the Trade in Services Agreement negotiations towards achieving free trade in environmental services.
Other efforts include collaborating with partners around the world on eliminating fossil fuel tax subsidies; leading global sector public financing towards cleaner energy; and strengthening global resilience to climate change.