White House with Marine One Parked on Lawn

Earlier this week at Georgetown University, President Obama laid out an aggressive plan to attack climate change, exclusively through executive action. In fact, according to National Journal, the word “Congress” isn’t used once in the 21-page report.

The document, entitled “The President’s Climate Change Action Plan” is wide ranging and has many potential impacts for business, industry and energy consumers. Most notably, the report focuses on performance standards for both new and existing coal power plants. It would seem the “war on coal” is once again going hot.

Leading up to the speech, Daniel P. Schrag – a White House climate advisor and Director of Harvard University’s Center for the Environment – told the NY Times the following:

Everybody is waiting for action…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.

Consumer Energy Alliance has broken down the policy document and listed its various proposals as either, potentially good, potentially bad, or uncertain. Here’s what you need to know:

Potentially Good:
In order to double renewable electricity generation by 2020, the President has authorized (pages 6-7):

  • DOI to permit an additional 10GW of renewable electricity on federal lands;
  • Encourage the electrification of existing dams
  • DOD to deploy 3GW of renewable energy on military installations
  • Presidential Memorandum that directs federal agencies to streamline the siting, permitting, and review process for transmission projects.

Launch of “Quadrennial Energy Review” (page 7):

  • The first will focus on infrastructure challenges.

Continued federal funding for clean energy research (page 7):

  • Small modular nuclear reactors part of funding focus.

The Federal Housing Administration will convene a roundtable in July to identify options for factoring energy efficiency into mortgage underwriting and appraisal processes upon sale or refinancing of new or existing homes (page 9):

The U.S. will seek global free trade in environmental goods, including technologies such as solar, wind, hydro and geothermal (page 19):

  • Lower or zero tariffs on goods could lower the costs of certain environmental technologies.

Potentially Bad:
EPA to complete “expeditiously” carbon pollution standards for both new and existing power plants (page 6):

  • President has asked EPA to build on “state leadership, provide flexibility, and take advantage of a wide range of energy resources and technologies”
  • The Plan notes that “more than 35 states have renewable energy targets in place and more than 25 have set energy efficiency targets.”
  • No discussion about consumer impact or programs to mitigate consumer impact, with exception of later-discussed energy efficiency standards and upgrades to the grid.

The Administration continues to support the Renewable Fuel Standard as it currently stands, but will make additional investments in advanced biofuel technology, including through DOD research (Page 8):

  • No hint that the Administration would be open to amending the standard to account for the E-10 blendwall. However, the Administration did not propose or hint at alternate fuel standards, such as a low carbon fuel standard.
  • The EPA is now committing to “integrate considerations of climate change impacts and adaptive measures into major programs, including its Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds” (page 13).

President Obama is calling on the elimination of U.S. fossil fuel tax subsidies (already included in FY2014 proposed budget) and encourages other countries to eliminate subsidies for fossil fuels (Page 20):

  • For the United States, the President notes “tax subsides,” which may mean to exclude LIHEAP funding. However, the mention of fossil fuel subsidies in other countries seems to encourage other nations to eliminate consumer subsidies for energy derived from fossil fuel.

Availability of $8 billion in loan guarantees for carbon capture and sequestration (page 7):

  • Unclear if this is sufficient to spur greater advancements in CCS technology that will allow widespread adoption in order to comply with the pending GHG rule for existing power plants.

Establishing a goal for efficiency standards for appliances and buildings (page 9):

  • The goal is to reduce carbon pollution by 3 billion metric tons cumulatively by 2030, but does not lay-out what type of standards would be proposed.

The EPA and the Departments of Agriculture, Energy, Interior and Labor will develop a comprehensive, interagency methane strategy (page 10):

  • The group will focus on “best practices and identifying existing authorities and incentive-based opportunities to reduce methane emissions.”
  • Unclear at this stage how this could affect upstream and midstream energy producers as well as the agriculture (mostly dairy farmers) sector.

The Administration is working to identify new approaches to protect and restore our forests, as well as other critical landscapes, including grasslands and wetlands (page 11):

  • Unclear at this stage how extensive measures will be and if they will include: expanded monument designations, ESA protections for animal and plant species and other conservation measures.
  • Similar to the previous bullet, “the Administration is also implementing climate-adaption strategies that promote resilience in fish and wildlife populations, forests and other plant communities, freshwater resources and the ocean….evaluate additional approaches to improve our natural defenses against extreme weather, protect biodiversity, and conserve natural resources.” (Page 15)