In a speech at Georgetown University on June 25, 2013, President Barack Obama unveiled his administration’s climate change agenda for its second term, featuring a series of rules and initiatives that can implemented by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) and other federal agencies without congressional action. While the details of these proposals will be determined through subsequent rulemaking, the plans and timeframes set forth in the speech signal a major expansion of federal climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts, with potentially significant impacts upon electric utilities and other regulated entities as well as units of state and local government most affected by the impacts of global warming.
The centerpiece of President Obama’s speech is a new Presidential Memorandum directing EPA to revise proposed greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions standards for new and significantly modified power plants by September 2013, to propose the nation’s first GHG emissions guidelines for existing power plants by June 2014, and to finalize those guidelines by June 2015. States would then have one year to submit plans implementing the guidelines for power plants within their borders, and President Obama directed EPA to work with states, industry, and other stakeholders in developing GHG controls for existing power plants. In the past, EPA has allowed emissions trading as a means of complying with existing source guidelines for non-GHG pollutants, an approach that could provide more flexibility for states and regulated sources than a conventional, technology-based emissions standard.
President Obama also called for increased fuel efficiency standards for heavy-duty vehicles, expanded federal support for energy efficiency savings in commercial and residential buildings, and U.S. leadership on international climate negotiations.
To promote climate change adaptation, President Obama directed federal agencies – such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development and USEPA – to take sea-level rise and other climate impacts into account in issuing grants or making infrastructure-related decisions in coastal areas. He also proposed the creation of a state, local and tribal task force on climate preparedness, and announced that the National Institute of Standards and Technology (“NIST”) will convene a panel to develop guidelines for climate-resilient buildings and infrastructure. As insurance and reinsurance companies have been increasingly affected by extreme climate events, the White House planned a meeting of insurance industry representatives and other stakeholders to “explore best practices for private and public insurers to manage their own processes and investments to account for climate change risks and incentivize policy holders to take steps to reduce their exposure to these risks.”
The ultimate impact of the President’s speech will depend upon his administration’s follow through, potential actions by Congress to constrain these efforts, as well as the results of litigation that are likely to follow the finalization of many of the rules that the Obama Administration has planned. With Congress unlikely to take up comprehensive global warming legislation in the near future, however, EPA and other federal agencies have become the primary drivers of federal climate policy, and, under the President’s new climate plans, will continue to serve that role. For more information about the President’s announcement on climate change issues, contact Jeff Gracer or Jon Kalmuss-Katz.